Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - FAO / WHO / WTO / Codex - 2019

WTO News Item, 7 March 2019

WTO / TBT - Members start implementing 2019-2021 work plan on Technical Barriers to Trade

WTO members began carrying forward their new 2019-2021 work plan to review the operation and implementation of the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In line with the work plan, two thematic sessions on good regulatory practices and conformity assessment procedures were held on 5 March at WTO headquarters. Members then convened a regular meeting of the TBT committee on 6-7 March, where they discussed 59 TBT-related trade concerns, 11 of which were addressed for the first time.

As part of the WTO's Eighth Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement, which was adopted in November 2018, members agreed to hold thematic sessions on relevant TBT issues alongside  the regular meetings of the committee, and agreed that the first two sessions of 2019  would  focus on good regulatory practices and conformity assessment procedures. Webcasts of the two sessions are available here:

The session on good regulatory practices focused on domestic committees and other administrative mechanisms that members have established to facilitate internal coordination on TBT matters. Members heard presentations on national experiences from Kenya, Indonesia, New Zealand, Chile, China, Guatemala, and the United States.

The session on conformity assessment procedures focused on market surveillance as well as controls and risk assessment. Members heard presentations from the the US, the European Union , China, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Australia regarding their national practices in these areas, as well as private sector perspectives on the issues.

The following are those items relating directly to food issues mentioned in the News Item:

Specific Trade Concerns:

Throughout two-day TBT committee meeting, WTO members discussed 59 specific trade concerns, including 11 new concerns. Below is a summary of the new concerns. A full list of the trade concerns is available here. For more information on previous trade concerns see the 14-15 November 2018, 19-21 June 2018 and 20-22 March 2018 meeting summaries.

5. Korea – graphic health warnings on alcoholic beverages

The United States said it was concerned with the lack of clarity in the development of a proposed amendment to Korea's Public Health Promotion Act requiring new graphic warning labels on alcoholic beverages. The US said that while it supported the objective of managing the public health challenges related to drunk driving, it was concerned that this lack of clarity could result in an unnecessary disruption to trade. The US also asked Korea to make available details of its new graphic warning labels, and said the measure should be properly notified to the WTO with sufficient opportunity for members to comment.

Korea responded that the draft regulation is being assessed by the relevant regulatory agencies and that it is preparing a notification for the WTO on this issue.  Korea stated its commitment to communicating effectively with stakeholders during the regulatory process.

6. Uruguay – labelling of packaged food

Costa Rica, the US, the EU, and Guatemala expressed concerns regarding Uruguay's proposed law on the labelling of ready-to-eat packaged food products. The proposed law requires a mandatory front-of-pack nutritional label indicating whether sodium, sugars, fats or saturated fats have been added during preparation. While acknowledging the legitimate health objective being pursued by Uruguay, members considered the measure as unnecessary given that less burdensome alternatives exist.  They also said the law was not based on relevant international standards, such as those of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX). Uruguay was also asked whether it had conducted studies concerning the specific labelling design requirements being proposed, and how alternatives had been evaluated.

Uruguay noted that the deadline for comments on the proposed measure was being extended until 30 March 2019. Uruguay considered that this proposal is justified as it is a legitimate reaction to the obesity epidemic, one of the largest causes of mortality affecting children in Uruguay. The proposed regulation is based on a series of international guidance documents, including those from the World Health Organization and the Pan‑American Health Organization, which explicitly includes front-of-pack nutritional labelling as effective parts of a larger public health toolkit.

7. European Union - Chlorothalonil (pesticide)

Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, the US  and Canada all expressed concern with the EU's proposed non‑renewal of market authorization for chlorothalonil, a fungicide used on many agricultural products exported to the EU, including, coffee, almonds, bananas, citrus fruits, cranberries, papaya and watermelon. They are concerned that the non‑renewal was not founded only on a proper risk-analysis, and without considering existing CODEX maximum residue levels (MRLs). They also noted that chlorothalonil is currently authorized for use by many countries.

The European Union said that its decision followed an extensive peer review process conducted by the European Food Safety Authority. This review concluded that chlorothalonil should be classified as carcinogen category 1B while acknowledging that several areas of the risk assessment could not be finalised due to insufficient data. The EU also said that this decision would not lead to immediate disruptions in trade because the purpose was not to amend the MRLs for this pesticide, and that a grace period for the use of products containing chlorothalonil would also be provided. The EU added that the possibility of granting transitional measures would be considered when the process of proposing any changes to existing MRLs starts.

8. European Union - Transitional periods for minimum residue in pesticides

Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and the US considered that the 6-month transitional period given by the EU before its new maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides enter into force is insufficient to allow exporters to adapt, in particular exporters from developing, tropical countries.

The European Union said that the setting of minimum residue levels for pesticides is more suited for discussion at the committee on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, not the TBT committee. The EU nonetheless informed members that a transitional period of 6 months is normally granted when MRLs are lowered, so that third countries and food business operators can prepare themselves to meet the new requirements. The EU also noted that products that are on the market before the application date may remain on the market, if high-level consumer protection guarantees are provided.

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