Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - FAO / WHO / WTO / Codex - 2016

WTO News Item, 16 and 17 March 2016

WTO - Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures: Formal Meeting: New trade concerns reviewed by WTO committee on food safety and animal/plant health

WTO members reviewed a number of trade measures concerning food safety and animal and plant health at a meeting of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures on 16-17 March. Nigeria and Mexico reported they have resolved frictions over plant health certificates.

New trade concerns

The committee reviewed a number of new concerns about WTO members’ trade measures, including five relating to animal health.

South Africa’s livestock certificates

Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana questioned South Africa’s revised animal health requirements for exports of cattle, sheep and goats. They claimed that the new requirements would limit livestock exports to South Africa and significantly impact the livelihood of small-scale farmers. South Africa said that the objective of the measures is to align the standards with applicable international guidelines, and that it had held bilateral discussions to resolve concerns with its trading partners.

China’s import restriction on EU animal products

The European Union questioned China’s measures limiting imports of animal products. China has suspended imports of bovine products and genetic materials from the EU since 2012, due to concerns about the Schmallenberg virus, a disease infecting sheep, cattle and goats. The EU argued that China’s import bans are unjustified since the disease is well under control and poses minimal risks. China responded that its experts had conducted risk assessments and concluded the virus can easily spread across regions, and therefore trade restrictions cannot be limited to exports from certain areas. As no international standards are in place for the Schmallenberg virus, China argued that its import restriction is in line with the WTO SPS Agreement.

The EU questioned China’s import restriction on poultry imports due to a particularly deadly strain of bird flu — highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The EU argued that China’s country-wide import ban ignored the fact that HPAI is only present in a few regions. In response, China argued that since certain types of HPAI have never been detected in its territory, its precautionary measures aim to prevent the disease from entering the country. China expressed its intention to continue dialogue with the EU to resume bilateral trade.

Import restrictions on Brazilian meat

Brazil questioned the EU’s import ban on pig meat from the state of Santa Catarina. It said that despite its efforts to comply with EU standards on residues of ractopamine, a feed additive that boosts growth and promotes leanness in pigs and cattle, the EU still claimed that its maximum residue level was exceeded. Brazil questioned the EU’s method for testing the residue at issue and urged the EU to lift the restrictions.

Separately, Brazil raised concerns about Nigeria’s import ban on beef and poultry products. According to Brazil, Nigeria had prohibited all imports of frozen meat since 2007 due to deficiencies in the Nigerian refrigeration system. Nigeria responded that the treatment is applied to all WTO members, and it is currently reviewing its practices.

Issues previously raised 

EU’s work to define endocrine disruptors

A heated debate once again took place on the EU’s proposed roadmap to define criteria to identify "endocrine disruptors" — chemical substances that may affect the human hormone system at certain doses. Twenty-three WTO members expressed concerns on proposed EU regulations. These concerns centre around the adverse trade effects on exports of agriculture products from developing countries. Many members pointed out that the proposed method based on the detection of a chemical substance, rather than assessing the risks to human and animal exposure, is overly restrictive. The EU informed members that the results of its risk assessment will be ready by the summer, and will take into consideration trade effects in formulating its policy measures.

African swine fever

African swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious disease of pigs currently reported in Eurasia, again featured heavily in the agenda. Russia questioned if the EU’s measures to contain the spread of ASF were sufficient, to which the EU responded that it would not engage in a debate on the matter since it is also currently the subject of an on-going dispute settlement case (DS475).

Separately, the EU questioned China and Korea’s import restrictions due to ASF. Both said their restrictions aim to prevent ASF from entering their territories, and they are willing to speed up risk assessment.

EU’s new regulation on novel foods

The EU made a presentation on its new regulation to approve novel foods, which will take effect in 2018 and ease the procedure for approval of foods not sold in the EU before 1997. But several members — Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala — said the new regulation does not address developing countries’ trade concerns regarding traditional products.

Resolved issues

Some trade concerns previously raised at the meeting were reported to be resolved. Nigeria informed members it had resolved trade frictions with Mexico about delays in exports for hibiscus flowers, a plant commonly used in beverages. Mexico previously required verification of plant health certificates for consignments of hibiscus flowers from Nigeria, resulting in delays of up to six weeks. At the previous meeting, Nigeria indicated its intention to start a mediation process to resolve the trade concern. Both countries reported they have resolved the issue bilaterally.

Over 400 trade concerns so far

A key function of the SPS committee is to provide a forum for countries to exchange information on their SPS activities and trade measures so any trade restrictions do not go beyond what is needed to protect human, animal and plant health.

The committee has reviewed over 400 trade concerns since 1995, of which 31% relate to food safety, 25% relate to plant health, 39% relate to animal health, and 5% to other issues such as certification requirements, control or inspection procedures, according to the annual summary report (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.16) of all the trade concerns reviewed in the SPS committee.

And finally …   

Delegates paid tribute to Gretchen Stanton, who chaired negotiations on the SPS Agreement and who served as the Secretary of the committee for over 20 years. Ms Stanton will retire from the WTO after 31 years of service at the end of the month.

Next meeting

6-7 July 2016

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