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WTO News Item, 23 March 2017
Brazil updated WTO members on the measures it has taken to ensure the safety of its meat and meat products at a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures on 22 and 23 March.
Since the start of its investigation into irregularities in meat inspections, several measures have been taken to “ensure the safety and quality of the products", the Brazilian delegation said. At the same time, the alleged misconduct only applied to a fraction of Brazil’s “solid and trustworthy” sanitary controls on animal products, the delegation told WTO members. It further reassured its trading partners that "the Brazilian regulatory system is among the most frequently and strictly audited and monitored worldwide".
According to Brazil, the Federal Police launched an investigation on 17 March 2017 into irregular practices involving certification of meat and meat products in 21 meat processing facilities that handle beef, poultry and pork products. These initial findings were taken very seriously by the authorities, and facts were being thoroughly checked and investigated by the Ministry of Agriculture. President Michel Temer had convened a meeting over the weekend of 18-19 March 2017 to assess the safety of domestic and international consumers with regard to the quality of meat produced in the country.
Brazil urged members to take into account this information and not to resort to measures which would run counter to WTO disciplines.
No WTO member took the floor after Brazil’s intervention.
Specific trade concerns
The Committee reviewed three new specific trade concerns and 12 previously raised concerns regarding food safety, plant and animal health measures.
New trade concerns
Viet Nam's import suspension of groundnuts
Senegal questioned Viet Nam’s decision to suspend imports of its groundnuts on 11 July 2016. The decision, according to Viet Nam, was triggered by the fact that containers of peanuts shipped from Senegal were found to be infected with two destructive pests.
Senegal argued that this issue concerned only one company, and that the government had since taken measures to ensure that Senegalese exporters abide by the relevant standards. As groundnut exports to Viet Nam accounted for a major share of Senegalese exports, Senegal asked Viet Nam to reconsider the import suspension.
US proposed withdrawal of residue tolerance for chlorpyrifos
Israel, supported by Ecuador, drew attention to the US proposed rule to revoke pesticide residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos, a common insecticide used on many agricultural crops.
Israel said that while it recognized the aim to protect consumer health and safety, the proposed rule to withdraw the residue tolerance was overly restrictive and did not take into account all risk elements. Israel further noted that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to revoke all food residue tolerances for the insecticide chlorpyrifos by 31 March 2017 would trigger a significant effect on exports of both pesticides and fresh agriculture products.
The United States responded that the EPA is in the process of considering all comments from the public, including those from its trading partners, in finalizing its decision. It further added that the WTO SPS Agreement provides room for members to go beyond international standards, as long as the measure is based on a risk assessment.
EU import ban on Russian poultry due to bird flu
Russia and the EU discussed the EU’s country-wide import ban of Russian poultry products following recent outbreaks of avian influenza or "bird flu".
According to Russia, the EU failed to recognize the regional nature of bird flu outbreaks and had banned imports of poultry products from the whole territory of Russia, resulting in unnecessary barriers to trade.
The EU responded that it is in contact with Russia to assess its request to recognize disease-free areas in relation to the bird flu outbreaks. However, the lack of submission of necessary information had resulted in significant delays in its assessment. The EU said that it would proceed to an evaluation as soon as the information was made available.
Previously raised concerns
EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors
The United States and Argentina once again expressed concerns with the EU's proposed criteria for identifying chemicals that can interfere with hormone systems, known as "endocrine disruptors". Over twenty delegations supported the proponents' concerns.
They argued that the EU approach to identifying endocrine disruptors had been based on hazard criteria, instead of on a risk-based approach. While they supported the objective of public health and environmental protection, the proposed approach could substantially disrupt international trade.
The proponents voiced further concerns regarding the EU's decision to split its draft legal act into two stand-alone components: a proposal to establish criteria for identifying endocrine disruptors and a separate proposal for the derogation procedures. If the EU establishes criteria to classify compounds as endocrine disruptors without simultaneously finalizing procedures for derogations, they argued, the revised approach may have a greater impact on trade.
The EU responded that it had acted in full transparency on this matter, responding to all comments received on its notification, as well as organizing an information session on the margins of the 2016 October SPS Committee. The draft acts had been revised to provide additional clarification and further developments would be communicated to members.
Import restrictions on Japanese foods
Japan once again challenged China and Chinese Taipei on their continued import bans on Japanese food from certain regions following the Fukushima nuclear incident five years ago. Japan expressed strong concerns over the prolonged risk assessment by the relevant Chinese authorities, and urged both members to respond to Japan's efforts "not only by words, but also by deeds".
China, in an equally strong response, said that the Fukushima nuclear leak not only directly affected the health and safety of Japanese people, but also China and other neighboring members. It urged Japan to keep a close watch on the effects of the nuclear leak on the marine environment, food safety and human health.
Chinese Taipei expressed similar food safety concerns about Japanese exports and further informed members that its authorities had reviewed current measures after completing an on-site visit in August 2016.
African swine fever
The EU once again raised concerns about China and Korea's continued country-wide import ban on pork products from Poland. It pointed to the Appellate Body report on WTO dispute DS475 adopted by WTO members on 21 March, which found fault with Russia's import ban due to its failure to adapt its SPS measures to the characteristics of the regions affected by African swine fever.
According to the EU, China had never provided information on its procedure for recognizing the EU’s zoning measures, and Korean authorities had suspended the risk assessment in August 2016 after outbreaks of African swine fever occurred in Poland.
In response, both China and Korea said that their import bans on pig and pig products from infected countries were based on science and safety considerations.
The US seafood monitoring programme
China, supported by Russia, the Philippines and Ecuador, raised concerns about the US Seafood Import Monitoring Programme that entered into effect in February 2016, requiring all seafood imported to the US to be accompanied by detailed information to trace the origin of the product. China stressed that the rule runs counter to several key principles of the WTO, including transparency, non-discrimination, scientific justification and avoidance of unnecessary barriers to international trade.
The US, in response, said that the programme aims to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The rule was part of a new, comprehensive seafood traceability programme that also included comparable requirements for US domestic fisheries. The US welcomed continued engagement with WTO members on the implementation of the rule, while stressing that the rule does not fall within the scope of the SPS Agreement.
China: transparency of its food safety measures
The United States asked China to provide information on its new food safety measures, citing two recent measures to implement China's 2015 Food Safety Law that have not been notified to the WTO. The concern was shared by the EU and Japan.
China said that it had a good track record of notifying its measures, and is preparing its notifications with reference to the two measures flagged by the US.
Report of informal discussions
Members heard a report of the informal discussions that were held prior to the formal meeting. The discussions revolved around a proposal by Kenya, Uganda and the United States (G/SPS/W/292) on possible next steps for consideration by the SPS Committee following the workshop on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs). The proposal suggests a few follow-up actions in order to advance the Committee’s work on pesticide MRLs.
Members also discussed a joint submission by Chile and the European Union (G/SPS/W/290) to improve information sharing, specifically, a suggestion to post unofficial translations of notified regulations on the WTO website and a suggestion to facilitate access to information about SPS measures that are in force.
A third suggestion, which proposed the organization of an informal meeting to discuss members' practices in identifying trade facilitating measures, was put into practice prior to the formal meeting. Specifically, a thematic session on the notification of trade facilitating measures was held, where members exchanged experiences on how trade-facilitating measures are identified in the notification process.
Other discussions in the informal meeting focused on the US proposal for concluding the Committee's Report on the Fourth Review (G/SPS/W/291) as well as the joint proposal by Canada and Kenya on a catalogue of instruments available for WTO members to manage SPS issues (G/SPS/W/279/Rev.2).
Overall, members indicated they needed more time to assess the proposals, while reiterating their interest in continuing discussions.
The meeting was chaired by Mr Felipe Hees of Brazil, who acted as the interim chairperson for the Committee.
FAO/WHO Trust Fund
The WHO informed the Committee of the funding constraints facing the FAO/WHO Codex Trust Fund and encouraged WTO members to further support the effective participation of developing countries by making a contribution to the Trust Fund (G/SPS/GEN/1534).
This report is available on the WTO which provides links to the documents mention in the report. See: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/sps_22mar17_e.htm