Implementation — the SPS Committee

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4.4 Committee meetings

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The SPS Committee normally holds three regular meetings each year. It may also hold special meetings, for example on transparency. The regular meetings of the SPS Committee usually last for one day and a half, and may be preceded by one or several informal meetings to discuss specific topics. In addition, special workshops, such as on risk assessment, are occasionally organized.

At the end of each meeting, the Committee adopts a tentative agenda for the next meeting. Members may request inclusion of specific items on the agenda until ten calendar days before the next meeting, when the WTO Secretariat prepares an airgram containing the proposed agenda. This airgram is sent to each Member of the WTO. A typical agenda for a formal meeting of the SPS Committee looks like this:

Agenda for a Typical SPS Committee Meeting

  1. Adoption of the agenda
  2. Implementation of the Agreement
    1. Information from Members
    2. Specific trade concerns
    3. Consideration of specific notifications received
    4. Any other matters related to the operation of transparency provisions
  3. The SPS Agreement and developing countries
  4. Equivalence — Article 4
  5. Technical assistance and cooperation
  6. Monitoring the use of international standards
  7. Matters of interest arising from the work of observer organizations
  8. Requests for observer status
  9. Other business

These agenda items are explained in more detail below. The Secretariat usually also prepares an annotated agenda, to assist Members better prepare for the anticipated discussions and decisions.


Agenda Item: Implementation of the Agreement  back to top

Under this agenda item, Members can discuss specific aspects of the implementation of the Agreement. For example, Members can provide information on advances they have made in implementing the Agreement, on consultations regarding equivalence, or on their recognition as areas free of certain pests or diseases.

Members can raise specific trade concerns, for example when their products are facing sanitary or phytosanitary barriers to entry into other Members’ markets. If a Member has notified a regulation about which other Members are concerned, they can raise it under this agenda item, as well as other matters related to transparency, such as a Member’s failure to notify certain measures, or unclear notifications.

These discussions, especially of specific trade concerns, have been very useful for many countries. They can lead to exchanges of information or bilateral consultations and, where necessary, exert some pressure to resolve problems. In many cases, Members raising a problem will find that they have “allies” in the Committee who are facing similar difficulties.


Agenda Item: The SPS Agreement and developing countries  back to top

During the 1998-99 review of the SPS Agreement, the Committee noted that developing countries were facing some difficulties in the implementation of the Agreement. The Secretariat prepared a background document (G/SPS/W/93) on the SPS Agreement and developing countries, and the topic has become a permanent item on the agenda of SPS Committee meetings.

Following more general discussion, the Committee has begun to focus the discussions on one or two topics at a time. The first two topics singled out for more in-depth discussion were special and differential treatment for developing countries and equivalence.


Agenda Item: Equivalence — Article 4  back to top

In the Decision on the Implementation of Article 4 (G/SPS/19), the SPS Committee decided that equivalence should become a standing agenda item. During 2002 and 2003, the discussions under this agenda item will focus on the work programme adopted by the SPS Committee (G/SPS/20). Members can report on their experiences with the negotiation recognition of equivalence, and the “three sister organizations” inform the SPS Committee of their relevant work.


Agenda Item: Technical assistance and cooperation  back to top

Under this agenda item Members have the opportunity to identify their technical assistance needs, and to inform other Members of technical assistance that they have provided. In addition, the Secretariat and several of the observer organizations regularly provide information on their technical assistance activities. The Committee has discussed a typology of different kinds of technical assistance, to identify those types which are most appropriate (G/SPS/GEN/206). The Secretariat has circulated a questionnaire on technical assistance needs (G/SPS/W/113), and circulates the responses to this questionnaire (as addenda to document G/SPS/GEN/295).

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Agenda Item: Monitoring the use of international standards  back to top

Trade problems due to an outdated or unused international standard, or due to the non-existence of such a standard, can be raised under this agenda item. According to the provisional procedure to monitor the process of international harmonization (G/SPS/11) developed by the Committee, Members should identify specific examples of such problems at least 30 days before each meeting of the Committee. The Committee discusses these examples, and may ask the relevant standard-setting organizations to consider the standards identified. An annual report summarizes the Committee’s monitoring activities, and is provided to the international standard-setting organizations. The most recent annual report (in the G/SPS/ series) can be downloaded from the WTO website.

Click here to find out how to download these documents from the WTO website.


Agenda Item: Matters of interest arising from the work of observer organizations  back to top

Under this agenda item all the observers are invited to provide relevant information to the Committee, for example on the development of international standards and meetings of standard-setting committees.


Agenda Item: Requests for observer status  back to top

The SPS Committee must decide whether to grant observer status to applicants on a consensus basis. The Committee considers the mandate and membership of the requesting organization, as well as the relevance of its work to the SPS Committee, on the basis of guidelines adopted by the WTO General Council. Observer status can only be granted to intergovernmental organizations. The Committee has accepted some observer organizations on a regular basis, and others on an ad hoc, meeting-by-meeting basis. In addition, countries in the process of acceding to the WTO are automatically observers in the WTO Committees.


Agenda Item: Other business  back to top

Under other business, Members can raise any point which they have not previously raised. This includes specific trade concerns which could not be brought to the attention of the other Member and of the Secretariat at least ten calendar days in advance of the meeting.



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