Developing countries, and especially the least-developed countries, face important challenges in the implementation of such a technical agreement as the SPS Agreement. At the same time, since agricultural exports are of critical importance for many developing countries, the SPS Agreement can be an useful tool they can use against trade barriers imposed by their trading partners. It is thus necessary that developing countries be able to implement this Agreement, not only to be in compliance with their obligations, but also to take advantage of their rights.
In order to facilitate implementation, the SPS Agreement allowed a transition period for developing and least-developed countries. Developing countries could delay the implementation of the provisions related to imported products for two years, least-developed countries for five years. These five years ended on 1 January 2000.
Furthermore, the SPS Agreement contains provisions on technical assistance and special and differential treatment to help developing and least-developed countries implement and take advantage of the Agreement.
At the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001, developing countries raised a number of concerns with the implementation of various WTO Agreements. Some of these concerns were addressed in the Doha Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns (WT/MIN(01)/17).
Regarding the SPS Agreement, this Decision on Implementation contains the following text:
3.1 Where the appropriate level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection allows scope for the phased introduction of new sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the phrase “longer time-frame for compliance” referred to in Article 10.2 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, shall be understood to mean normally a period of not less than 6 months. Where the appropriate level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection does not allow scope for the phased introduction of a new measure, but specific problems are identified by a Member, the Member applying the measure shall upon request enter into consultations with the country with a view to finding a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem while continuing to achieve the importing Member’s appropriate level of protection.
3.2 Subject to the conditions specified in paragraph 2 of Annex B to the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the phrase “reasonable interval” shall be understood to mean normally a period of not less than 6 months. It is understood that timeframes for specific measures have to be considered in the context of the particular circumstances of the measure and actions necessary to implement it. The entry into force of measures which contribute to the liberalization of trade should not be unnecessarily delayed.
3.3 Takes note of the Decision of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (G/SPS/19) regarding equivalence, and instructs the Committee to develop expeditiously the specific programme to further the implementation of Article 4 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
3.4 Pursuant to the provisions of Article 12.7 of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures is instructed to review the operation and implementation of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures at least once every four years.
3.5 (i) Takes note of the actions taken to date by the Director-General to facilitate the increased participation of Members at different levels of development in the work of the relevant international standard setting organizations as well as his efforts to coordinate with these organizations and financial institutions in identifying SPS-related technical assistance needs and how best to address them; and
(ii) urges the Director-General to continue his cooperative efforts with these organizations and institutions in this regard, including with a view to according priority to the effective participation of least-developed countries and facilitating the provision of technical and financial assistance for this purpose.
3.6 (i) Urges Members to provide, to the extent possible, the financial and technical assistance necessary to enable least-developed countries to respond adequately to the introduction of any new SPS measures which may have significant negative effects on their trade; and
(ii) urges Members to ensure that technical assistance is provided to least-developed countries with a view to responding to the special problems faced by them in implementing the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.