In a meeting of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures on 18-19 July 2019, WTO members discussed eight new specific trade concerns regarding food safety, animal and plant health and 16 previously raised concerns. Members elected Daniel Arboleda of Colombia as the new chair of the committee. At an earlier workshop, members also discussed ways to improve the transparency of import measures
Members highlighted a range of measures regarding food safety and animal and plant health, with many exporting countries saying that import requirements are too stringent. This is especially detrimental to the export opportunities of farmers in developing countries, they said. Eight new specific trade concerns (STCs) and 16 previously raised concerns were addressed at the committee meeting and a large number of WTO members and observers contributed to the discussions.
The European Union provided information regarding the resolution of an STC about the Russian's Federation import restrictions on certain animal products from Germany, first raised in the committee in June 2016.
New specific trade concerns (STCs)
EU amendments of MRLs
Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador voiced concerns about the European Union amendments to maximum residue levels (MRLs) for imazalil - a widely used fungicide used in the cultivation of citrus fruit and bananas. These members said that the amendments are a matter of great concern to many producers, particularly to producers of bananas, as no efficient alternatives to imazalil are currently available. They criticized the EU for following a precautionary stance in taking its decisions and for disregarding scientific evidence presented by relevant international organizations recognized by the SPS Agreement.
The European Union, in its response, said that its studies did not exclude that residues of imazalil posed a risk to some consumers and informed members that the new MRLs were expected to be applicable from April 2020 onwards, allowing food business operators time to prepare for the new requirements that will result from the modification of the existing standards.
EU maximum levels for certain contaminants
Colombia raised concerns about the EU regulatory process for determining maximum levels of certain contaminants (such as glycidyl fatty acid esters, 3-monochloropropanediol) in foods or food ingredients, such as refined oils and refined oil products including palm oil. Several members noted that the EU has not notified the measure for comments despite the repercussions this could have on the international palm oil market. They also referred to the ongoing work on risk management through the elaboration of a code of good practices within the framework of the Codex Alimentarius to reduce these contaminants.
The EU replied that discussions on the appropriate regulatory measures for these contaminants are ongoing and indicated that draft measures will be notified under the SPS Agreement and would take into account comments by WTO members before finalizing the proposal.
EU MRLs for tea pesticide
China raised concerns regarding the new EU proposed MRLs for the pesticide lambda-cyhalothrin in tea and other products, lowering it from 1mg/kg to 0.01 mg/kg. According to China, this measure is not based on risk assessment results but on an alleged lack of relevant data. China asked the EU to further evaluate the potential health risk to consumers and to consider a transition period of at least one year for Chinese tea producers to adjust if the EU finally decides to implement a new limit standard.
The European Union responded that the legislation setting MRLs for lambda-cyhalothrin in tea and other herbal infusion at the level of determination (LOD) of 0.01 mg/kg is based on available scientific data. The new regulation grants a transitional period that would allow keeping products already on the market, the EU said, but without prejudice to the obligation of ensuring a high level of consumer protection.
China's restrictions on beef
The United States voiced concerns regarding China's restrictions on imports of US beef, recalling that the US was recognized as a territory with negligible risk for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or "mad cow disease" by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Current conditions of beef trade with China fall short of full alignment with OIE recommendations for negligible risk countries, the US said.
In its reply, China said it resumed importing deboned and boned beef under 30 months of age from the United States in June 2017 after carrying out a risk assessment. However, China noted that in order to ensure the safety of its cattle industry and public health, it has not imported beef over 30 months of age from members with a record of BSE.
Turkey's restrictions on live cattle
Argentina raised a new STC regarding Turkey's foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD) related import restrictions on live cattle, saying that there is no scientific evidence to justify this measure and recalling that the OIE has recognized Argentina as an FMD-free zone area, with and without vaccination. Argentina indicated that Turkey allows for the importation of live cattle from other territories with similar sanitary conditions and requested the country to eliminate what it considered a "non-equitable and discriminatory" measure.
In its response, Turkey stressed that following the detection of new FMD cases in Turkey as a result of animal imports, and in view of its candidate country status to join the European Union, it has updated its regulation on the importation of live cattle. Negotiations with Argentina are ongoing to find a solution to re-initiate trade, but the Argentinian alternatives proposed so far fail to meet FMD requirements established in the new national legislation, Turkey said.
Viet Nam's general restriction on imports
Brazil took the floor to voice concerns about Viet Nam's general restrictions on several products such as melons, live cattle, beef, and meat and bone meal through undue delays in the process of negotiating International Sanitary Certificates and requests for more information than what is scientifically needed in order to perform risk analysis. In Brazil's view, the procedures undertaken by Viet Nam illustrate how disregard for the SPS Agreement can raise unnecessary and unjustified barriers to trade.
Viet Nam responded that as a result of the fast increase in agricultural imports in recent years it has had to adjust its legislation to ensure an appropriate level of protection of human, animal or plant life and health. All these changes have been duly notified to the WTO, Viet Nam said, and the new measures are not discriminatory and follow the guidelines set by international standard setting bodies.
Ukraine's restrictions on swine products
Brazil raised concerns about Ukraine's restrictions on swine products. According to Brazil, Ukraine is the only member that has imposed an embargo on all Brazilian swine products following a case of classical swine fever in October 2018 after one decade of no records of the disease in the country. Moreover, Brazil added, the case happened in an area which does not export and all the technical explanations and bilateral efforts with Ukraine to resolve the issue have not yielded results.
Ukraine took the floor to regret that despite several requests at bilateral meeting as well as official letters, Brazil has not submitted the requested information in order to carry out a proper assessment of the situation. Ukraine said its actions were based on international standards and regulations and pointed out that new cases of the disease in Brazil were registered in July 2019. Ukraine said it is ready to engage in a more effective dialogue with the Brazilian authorities on this issue.
Japan's restrictions on avocados
Brazil raised this STC on what it considers Japan's undue delay in concluding a pest risk analysis before opening its market to Brazilian avocados. Brazil noted that all the requisites of Japan's risk assessment process have been fulfilled, and that it has provided all the scientific information needed to assure Japan of the high sanitary standards of Brazilian avocado exports. Therefore, there are neither technical nor legal reasons that justify Japan not opening its market to Brazilian avocado.
In its response, Japan noted that based on the scientific knowledge that avocados can be infested with the Mediterranean fruit fly, Japan has held constructive consultations with many countries, including Brazil, lifting import bans in some cases. However, Brazil has not provided sufficient information on the phytosanitary measures applied to avoid the spread of this pest. Japan said it is ready to have constructive discussions with Brazil to find a mutually agreeable solution.
Issues previously raised
STCs previously brought up in the SPS Committee included six EU SPS-related policies: maximum residue levels of certain pesticides; legislation on endocrine disruptors; France's dimethoate-related restrictions; transitional periods for MRLs and international consultations; the new definition of the fungicide folpet; and the EU Commission Decision on animal products.
The EU also raised previously addressed issues, including the Russian Federation's import restrictions on processed fishery products from Estonia; South Africa's import restrictions on poultry due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; Indonesia's approval procedures for animal and plant products; US import restrictions on apples and pears; and general import restrictions due to BSE.
In addition, the Committee heard concerns regarding China's import restrictions due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; Guatemala's restrictions on egg products; Indonesia's food safety measures affecting horticultural products and animal products; China's official certification requirements for food imports; and China's proposed amendments to the implementation regulations on safety assessment of agricultural genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Transparency and coordination
As part of the Fifth Review of the SPS Agreement, a Workshop on Transparency and Coordination took place on 15-16 July with the funded participation of over 40 government officials from developing country members and observers. The objective of the workshop was to bring together officials, as well as experts from regional and international organizations, to exchange experiences with transparency-related coordination, and with broader domestic coordination mechanisms. An area of focus was on the difference in scope between the SPS Agreement and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement, and on notification of measures containing both SPS and TBT elements.
Members shared experiences in handling and coordinating SPS/TBT notifications and institutional arrangements, including having separate SPS and TBT agencies or one "single window" covering both matters. The WTO Secretariat provided an overview of SPS/TBT sources of information, including: WTO Documents Online and the e-Subscription service for delegates to receive WTO official documents; the SPS/TBT gateways on the WTO website; and the SPS/TBT Information Management Systems for searches and reports on notifications, STCs, and contact details of enquiry points and notification authorities. In addition, the Secretariat provided an update on the ePing system, which includes two main functionalities: an email alert mechanism to track relevant notifications and a communication platform to facilitate domestic and international discussion and coordination on distributed notifications.
Participants also discussed how to incorporate experiences from the trade facilitation area, recalling that unlike the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the SPS Agreement does not require the establishment of national committees. However, many members found it useful saying that they could play a role in facilitating the implementation of the SPS Agreement, by creating awareness and promotion of reporting requirements.
The workshop also benefited from presentations about domestic coordination mechanisms for purposes broader than transparency, such as coordinating positions to prevent and resolve specific trade concerns.
Next meeting
The next meeting is scheduled for the week of 4 November 2019, with a Thematic Session on Approval Procedures on 5 November, an informal meeting on 6 November, and the regular Committee meeting on 7 and 8 November.
Source: WTO