Under the World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement), each Member of the WTO has obligations relating to “transparency” (see Box 1). For example, countries are required to publish all sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS measures) and notify changes to SPS measures. In implementing the agreement, countries are required to identify a single central government authority to be responsible for the notification requirements of the SPS Agreement (the notification authority). Also, countries are required to establish an enquiry point responsible for answering questions from other countries about SPS measures and related issues (the enquiry point).
This handbook is meant as a practical guide for governments to facilitate the implementation of the transparency provisions of the SPS Agreement. It deals in most detail with the setting up and operation of enquiry points and notification authorities. While it may be especially useful for developing and least-developed countries (LDCs), it may also be a useful reference for countries that are acceding to the WTO and establishing notification authorities, as well as WTO Members in general.
The primary purpose is to provide guidance on the establishment and operation of notification authorities and enquiry points; the handbook does, however, cover all three areas of transparency: the publication of regulations, notifications, and responding to enquiries. The handbook is not intended to provide any legal interpretation of the SPS Agreement and is without prejudice to the rights and obligations of Members under the WTO Agreements.
This handbook is a WTO publication produced at the initiative of the WTO Secretariat to assist Members and acceding countries. It has been developed and compiled using a number of resources including:
- the experience of existing notification agencies and enquiry points;
- responses to G/SPS/W/103
— questionnaire on the operation of SPS enquiry points and notification authorities;
- Recommended procedures for implementing the transparency obligations of the SPS Agreement (Article 7) (G/SPS/7/Rev.2); and
- the Decision by the SPS Committee on notification of determination of the recognition of equivalence of SPS measures (G/SPS/7/Rev.2/Add.1)
- the text of the SPS Agreement itself.
The WTO Secretariat wishes to express its deep gratitude to the Government of New Zealand for their assistance in developing this handbook.
While the word “transparency” is often used in the context of the WTO it is not specifically defined. In the SPS Agreement it appears in two places, in the title of Article 7 (Transparency) and in the title of Annex B (Transparency of sanitary and phytosanitary regulations).
The notion of transparency is closely linked to the provisions surrounding notification procedures. In reviewing the SPS Agreement during 1998, the Committee noted that Members had “significantly improved transparency”1 and that this was illustrated by a progressive and more comprehensive implementation of notification obligations. It is notable that in the WTO Analytical Index2 a link is made directly from the term “transparency” to the “notification requirements”.
In essence the word transparency in the context of the WTO is used to signify one of the fundamental principles of its agreements: the aim to achieve a greater degree of clarity, predictability and information about trade policies, rules and regulations of Members. In implementing this concept Members use notifications. Under the Agreement on Agriculture, notifications are used to follow the implementation of commitments, inter alia, in the areas of subsidies and market access. Under the SPS Agreement, notifications are used to inform other Members about new or changed regulations that affect their trading partners. Transparency under the SPS Agreement also implies answering reasonable questions and publishing regulations.