Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 2010

WTO News Item, 29-30 June 2010

SPS COMMITTEE - New ‘SPS’ chair’s aim: avoid ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ contaminating bid to beef up mediation

The follwoing News Item can be found on the WTO website where it contains numerous links to related documents. See:

Delegations in the WTO committee on food safety and animal and plant health, meeting on 29—30 June 2010, continued to disagree over how to set up a system that would encourage members to make more use of mediation by the chairperson to resolve some of their differences.

They also continued to differ on how the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee should respond to standards set by the private sector. Eight new specific trade concerns were raised as part of the committee’s main task of overseeing the SPS Agreement’s implementation.

Some detail

Ad hoc mediation

One of the purposes of using the chairperson as a mediator is to avoid differences turning into complicated and sometimes expensive legal disputes.

Argentina is one of the countries seeking an “ad hoc” method to be set up within the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee. More specifically, Argentina and the US have proposed guidelines for applying Art.12.2 of the SPS Agreement

It warned that the deliberations could be “held hostage” by other countries’ preference to wait for members to agree on an alternative system, currently being negotiated in the Doha Round talks on non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

The NAMA system was proposed by a group of countries and can be found in the negotiating group’s chairperson’s December 2008 draft “modalities” text, in part 1 of Annex 5. If agreed, it would be used for non-tariff measures (including SPS measures) across a range of WTO topics. This “horizontal” mechanism would then be submitted to individual committees (such as the SPS Committee) for them to adapt it to their particular needs.

India, Switzerland and a number of other countries said they would prefer to wait for the NAMA system to be agreed, although they were willing to continue discussing the question in the SPS Committee. Some other delegates said both systems could be available, allowing members to choose which one to use. Some said the SPS version could be adopted temporarily and then adapted or replaced by the broader NAMA version.

The SPS Committee’s new chairperson Flavio Damico of Brazil joked that he hoped that if the discussions are held hostage, this would not lead to a Stockholm Syndrome in which the hostages prefer to remain hostages.

The SPS Agreement already includes provisions for the chairperson to mediate in consultations and this was used occasionally in the WTO’s early years.

The first substantial discussion to strengthen the system and encourage more countries to use it took place in SPS Committee’s June 2008 meeting, when proposals from Argentina and the US were on the table.

Making better use of the chairperson’s services as a mediator is one in a series of moves to strengthen the committee’s work. It follows decisions to improve the information that members are asked to supply on the SPS measures they implement, and on recognizing regions — as distinct from countries — as being free from certain diseases or pests.

Consultations will continue and those countries that have used the chair as a mediator before have been asked to report on their experiences.

Private sector standards

Consultations among about 30 members in an ad hoc working group continued on the eve of the committee’s meeting. Outgoing SPS chairperson Miriam Chaves reported that members remain divided over the actions that the SPS Committee might take and how this might be presented in a draft report on possible actions to deal with private standards in food safety and animal and plant health.

Members have identified a dozen possible actions, ranging from proposals to clarify what is meant by “private standards” to proposals to develop codes of conduct for private standards-setting bodies. While some of these proposed actions appear to enjoy widespread support, others are more controversial for certain members.

Since the agreement mainly deals with government measures, some members doubt whether the committee can act on private sector standards. The agreement’s Art.13 includes this sentence: “Members shall take such reasonable measures as may be available to them to ensure that non-governmental entities within their territories, as well as regional bodies in which relevant entities within their territories are members, comply with the relevant provisions of this Agreement.”

Ms Chaves reported that the consultations also included presentations from other organizations such as two of the SPS Committee’s three “sisters” — Codex Alimentarius, which deals with food safety standards, and the World Organization for Animal Health — and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). One of the messages from these presentations was to urge private sector organizations to base the safety requirements in their standards with those of the international bodies.

When first raised in 2005, this issue took the SPS Committee into comparatively new territory — the committee generally deals with standards set by international standards-setting bodies and those imposed by governments.

A number of developing countries in particular are concerned that private standards — which apply for example in supermarket chains — could undermine the disciplines negotiated in the SPS Agreement (see also SPS news archives). Some delegations also argue that by meeting private standards, exporters can improve their products’ marketability.

Specific concerns

One of the SPS Committee’s most important functions is to provide an opportunity for members to raise concerns they have about each others’ SPS measures. This is the SPS Committee’s bread-and-butter work in overseeing the agreement’s implementation.

Several issues raised were old ones, raised in previous meetings, in some cases with similar exchanges. Those summarized here tend to be issues that have generated concerns among a number of members. The full list of issues on the agenda is under “P.S.” below.

EU’s forthcoming regulation on humane slaughter. In this new issue, India and China were concerned that this would require exporters to adopt the EU’s methods. The EU said the regulation would not do that, but would accept equivalent methods.

China’s notifications: The EU said that while it welcomed the transparency, China had recently submitted almost 100 notifications on food additives, with too little time for other countries to study them all and to comment. China said the measures are necessary to protect consumers. It urged members to comment, even after the official comment period had expired, and promised to take the comments into account.

Residue standards for ractopamine, a beta-agonist drug mixed with feed to make pigs produce leaner meat. The US, Canada and others said they hoped Codex could shortly adopt a new, long-delayed maximum residue level following new scientific recommendations. The EU and China were more cautious about the scientific findings and said they did not want to “prejudge” the discussion in Codex. This is was raised as a “specific trade concern” in earlier meetings but this time raised as an agenda item dealing with standard-setting in other organizations.

Other issues

The francophone West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and Agency for International Trade Information and Cooperation (AITIC) have been accepted as observers, to be invited meeting by meeting, if there are no objections by 30 July 2010. Three other organizations were accepted as observers at the last meeting.

Meanwhile, the third review of the operation and implementation of the SPS Agreement has now been formally adopted. The report is document G/SPS/53.

Chairperson: Mr Flavio Soares Damico of Brazil (taking over from Ms Miriam Chaves of Argentina at the start of the meeting)

Next meetings

These dates (with informal meetings on other days in the week) could still be changed:



These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed in the meeting or information supplied to the meeting.

Activities of members

Specific trade concerns


Previously raised

Consideration of specific notifications received

Information on resolution of issues

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