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WTO Members adopt catalogue of instruments for managing food safety, animal, plant health issuesTuesday, March 06, 2018 > 10:04:36
WTO members successfully concluded almost four years of discussion by adopting the “Catalogue of Instruments” available to WTO members for managing sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues, at an SPS Committee meeting on 2 March. Members may use the catalogue to seek information, initiate consultations and resolve trade frictions on food safety, animal and plant health issues.
Originally proposed by Canada and Kenya in June 2014, the catalogue lists actions WTO members can resort to in order to manage SPS issues, including trade concerns. Members finally reached a consensus and overcame the difference of views on the need to add an introductory paragraph or "soft" disclaimer clarifying the intended use of the catalogue.
Some members had highlighted systemic concerns over the inclusion of disclaimers in committee decisions. Recalling paragraph 29 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration to reinvigorate the work of regular committees, these members considered that the disclaimer could add an unnecessary level of complexity to work of this and other WTO committees. However, they accepted the solution proposed for the sake of consensus and the importance of pushing the SPS Committee agenda forward.
In response to these concerns, other members pointed out that most SPS Committee decisions contained disclaimers. It was also noted that WTO panels and the Appellate Body had used committee decisions only to reconfirm their interpretation of the WTO agreements.
The consensus-based approach to finalize this document has allowed the Committee to focus on new work, including the Fifth Review of the SPS Agreement, based on WTO members' 2001 decision to review the Agreement’s operation and implementation at least once every four years.
The last review of the SPS Agreement started in October 2013 and was adopted in July 2017 overcoming members’ disagreement over a recommendation that the Committee consider problems relating to private standards on food safety, animal and plant health. Members finally reached a compromise by introducing wording suggesting that members are unable to agree on that recommendation.
Specific trade concerns
The SPS Committee, chaired by Marcial Espínola Ramírez of Paraguay, reviewed five new trade concerns and 16 previously raised trade concerns regarding food safety, plant and animal health measures.
New trade concerns
Viet Nam's maximum residue levels for veterinary drugs
The United States raised concerns regarding Viet Nam's regulation which would allegedly rescind maximum residue levels (MRLs) for several drugs currently aligned with Codex standards. The concern was shared by Canada and New Zealand. They said that Viet Nam's proposal of zero tolerance on certain veterinary drugs including ractopamine would ban imports of meat products that would contain any residue of these veterinary drugs, even within Codex established MRLs. They also highlighted the lack of a scientific justification for rescinding the Codex aligned MRLs.
Viet Nam responded that the Ministry of Health is in the process of reviewing the regulation and receiving comments from relevant authorities to finalize the draft regulation and will update members on any regulatory changes. Viet Nam stressed that its regulations are based on the guidelines set by the international standard-setting body and denied any arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination against other WTO members.
Mexico's market access requirement for casein products
India voiced concerns regarding Mexico's market access requirement for casein products (casein is the principal protein found in cow's milk). India stressed that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) has recognized India´s official control programme for foot and mouth disease (FMD) and that the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code recommends the import of milk products from FMD infected counties or zones where an official control programme exists. For this reason, India requested Mexico to allow the importing of casein from India which has been certified by the competent authorities. India said it trusts Mexico will soon resolve this issue, especially after a recent good bilateral meeting held by both delegations.
Mexico noted that both governments are fully committed to keep working at a technical level, so as to meet India's concern and, at the same time, safeguard the legitimate right of Mexico to establish an appropriate level of protection in keeping with the principles of the SPS Agreement and relevant international standards.
Saudi Arabia's ban on fish, crustacean and other products from Viet Nam
Viet Nam raised concerns regarding Saudi Arabia's temporary ban on the importing of fish, crustaceans and other aquatic animal products. Saudi Arabia shared the conclusions and recommendations of a Saudi technical team visiting Viet Nam in December 2017 to justify the temporary suspension of the importing of these products as a precautionary measure to prevent white spot disease (a highly contagious viral infection that affects crustaceans).
Among other things, the technical team concluded that there is no clear evidence that Viet Nam exercises tight controls over fish farms or hatcheries, nor over the administration, registration, or source of hormones used in fingerlings, and their effects on the final product safety. Moreover, there is no record of mortality rates in fish farms or hatcheries for fish and aquatic products destined for the Saudi market, and live and dead fish are not stored separately as they are carried over to fish plants and they can easily get mixed up and processed together, according to the report issued by the technical team.
In its response, Viet Nam said that the measure imposed by Saudi Arabia is an excessively restrictive trade measure contrary to principles and provisions of the SPS Agreement, such as transparency, national treatment and scientific justification. According to Viet Nam, white spot disease is also present in Saudi Araba; and that in order to have appropriate justification for the import suspension, Saudi Arabia should demonstrate its white spot disease-free status, in line with OIE guidelines.
Viet Nam noted that the technical mission only conducted visits on certain Pangasius export and production establishments and did not inspect the whole fisheries safety control system of Viet Nam. It also stressed that white spot disease and acute hepatopancreatic necrosis disease (an emergent shrimp bacterial disease) have been controlled for many years and have only been detected in an area accounting for no more than 1 per cent of the total swim farming area of Viet Nam.
Viet Nam's market access requirements for "white" offal
Viet Nam's market access requirements for "white" offal - certain organ meats and tripe – were questioned by the United States.
The US said that in 2006 Viet Nam committed to accept the export certificate of wholesomeness issued by the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as proof that the exported meat and poultry products had been inspected and approved. Yet, Viet Nam has instituted a process of registration of individual US facilities instead of concentrating on the effectiveness of the FSIS's inspection and certification system as a whole. According to the US, such an approach is against Codex guidelines and forces US exporters to undertake a burdensome administrative process. New Zealand shared this concern.
In its response, Viet Nam referred to the inspection mission carried out by a Vietnamese technical team to the US in 2015 which detected several non-compliance cases in some US establishments resulting in the temporary suspension of new import registrations until corrective and preventable measures were taken. Viet Nam said that it has requested without success that the United States facilitate a new mission to the US by a Vietnamese delegation to inspect a number of US establishments and review the US regulatory programme and food security system.
US import restrictions on apples and pears
The European Union expressed its concern on the import restrictions imposed by the United States on EU apples and pears, which for many years had taken place under the US Pre-Clearance Inspection System. In 2008, the EU applied to export apples and pears to the US under a systems approach as an alternative option, but delays have continued despite all technical and scientific process being finalized in 2014 as a pre-requisite for a final approval. The EU noted that this situation contravenes the SPS Agreement's prohibition of undue delays in approval procedures and called on the US to allow trade immediately under the systems approach condition.
The US said that a proposed rule to authorize the importing of apples and pears from eight countries —Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Poland—under a systems approach that minimizes pest risk was published in 2016 and is now being evaluated. In addition, the US conducted site visit audits of apple and pear production sites in four of the eight EU member states during 2017. Upon completion of this process, the final rule to address the EU’s request will be published. The US stressed that these steps clearly demonstrate its responsiveness to the EU’s market access requests and hoped for a quick resolution of this process.
Thematic session on pest-free areas
A thematic session on pest-free areas was held on 27 February 2018. The purpose was to provide an opportunity for members to increase their awareness of International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) standards on pest-free areas, and to share experiences about the challenges, as well as the benefits, of implementing pest-free areas in practice from the perspective of an importing as well as an exporting party. This, in turn, would contribute to building confidence among trading partners when recognizing or seeking recognition of pest-free areas.
New chair and next meetings
The election of a new chair will take place at the next meeting in July after the chair of the Council for Trade in Goods concludes his consultations on chairpersons for its subsidiary bodies.
The next meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for the week of 9 July, with a workshop on 9-10 July on "Control, Inspection and Approval Procedures", an informal meeting on 11 July, and the regular meeting scheduled for 12 and 13 July.
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The SPS Information Management System (SPS IMS) includes all SPS-related measures notified by WTO members and the trade-related concerns discussed in previous SPS committee meetings.