WTO News Item, 30 and 31 March 2011
Five “actions” in a report on how WTO members might deal with private sector standards for food safety and animal and plant health were adopted by the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee in its 30-31 March 2011 meeting.
The report, submitted to the full membership by a working group of 30 members, contains additional proposed actions that will continue to be discussed.
Also in the committee, Japan urged members not to overreact to radiation leaks at one of its power stations following the recent earthquake and tsunami.
Members continued to comment on each other’s SPS measures, part of the committee’s core function of monitoring how the SPS Agreement is being implemented, with the recurring themes of whether certain measures are based on science or international standards, and whether they are targeted more broadly than at the regions that are the source of genuine risks.
There were a number of questions about the new US food safety law, as well as on issues that have been discussed before such as mad cow disease, avian influenza and residues of ractopamine, which promotes leanness in pigmeat and is banned in some countries and not in others.
Members continued to debate how best to set up a system that would encourage members to make more use of mediation by the chairperson to resolve some of their differences.
And a new SPS Notification Submission System (NSS) went online just before the meeting. It allows members to enter notifications online into the WTO system, part of the on-going efforts to improve the way information is shared among members, strengthening the committee’s monitoring role.
The five agreed actions cover defining private standards, sharing information, and cooperation between the WTO’s SPS Committee and other organizations. The remainder that are still under discussion include possible further work in the WTO such as developing guidelines and codes of conduct and clarifying governments’ legal obligations under the SPS Agreement — members views still differ on these.
The 30 members involved (including the EU as one member) were those that replied to a questionnaire circulated in July 2008 seeking proposals on what the SPS Committee might do in this area. They then formed an ad hoc working group, which met seven times between October 2008 and October 2010.
Among the concerns that some members have raised about private standards in food safety and animal and plant health are:
But some members have also seen benefits in private standards:
The five agreed actions for the SPS Committee are:
Members are still exploring how to implement a sixth “action” in which they would exchange information on private standards and develop their understanding of how these relate to international and government standards. While there is agreement to exchange information, there are differing views as to whether this should be part of the SPS Committee’s agenda.
Since the SPS 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.” It does not say how this should be done.
Japan thanked members for their sympathy and support following the recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. It briefly explained the actions it has taken on food safety risks arising from the radiation leak at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and urged WTO members not to overreact by implementing “unjustifiable” import restrictions. Members listened without commenting.
It said it has restricted the distribution to the market of agricultural products potentially affected by radioactive contamination in the areas concerned.
In order to achieve this, Japan said it has provisional regulations under its Food Sanitation Act for preventing food exceeding residual radioactive contamination levels from being supplied for public consumption. The provisional levels are based on the Japanese government’s Nuclear Safety Commission’s index, in line with recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).
Japan said it is continuing to monitor levels of radioactive contamination of agricultural products in order to prevent potential food safety risks. It is also striving to provide precise information quickly to its trading partners through the WTO, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization and other bodies. In return, Japan asked members not to overreact.
Japan’s statement was made under the agenda item “information from members” in which it also briefed members on amendments to its Animal Disease and Infection Control Law, recent outbreaks of high pathogen bird flu and restoration of Japan’s status as a foot and mouth disease-free country without vaccination.
Ractopamine and other concerns
The veterinary drug ractopamine, a feed additive to promote leanness in pigs raised for their meat, has been discussed in the committee before. It was raised again, as a specific trade concern with the US continuing to question Chinese Taipei’s ban on pork products due to the drug’s residues.
A number of countries such as Brazil and several others were also concerned that Codex Alimentarius has failed to adopt residue limits for the veterinary drug despite what they feel is a lack of any scientific evidence of health risks. Brazil put this issue on the agenda, with substantive support from many.
The EU and some other European countries ban ractopamine completely, and have delayed adoption of any Codex standard. The issue will be considered again at the Codex Commission meeting during the first week of July 2011.
Four new specific trade concerns were raised, and nine previous issues were again discussed. Many members voiced concerns about the new US Food Safety Modernization Act, which the US had presented at a special session earlier during the week. This overhaul of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) control of domestic and imported food safety will require companies supplying foreign food to pre-register. It will also require the US to inspect at least 600 foreign suppliers in the first year, the number doubling in following years.
The FDA plans to accredit third party certification bodies, which raises interesting questions of reliance on private sector companies for this purpose. A number of Members raised questions about delays, costs, de facto discrimination against small suppliers, and lack of transparency.
The EU, US and others continued to object to India’s restrictions relating to avian influenza, which they consider to be excessive. The EU found the risk assessment that India finally provided in October to be unconvincing.
Chairperson: Mr Flavio Soares Damico of Brazil. Mr Deny Wachyudi Kurnia of Indonesia was elected as the new chairperson at the end of the meeting. He will take over in the next meeting in June.
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, as in the draft agenda (some other items were added in the meeting). A database of trade concerns raised is in the WTO’s SPS Information Management System, http://spsims.wto.org.
Information from …
Specific trade concerns (G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.11)
Information on resolution of issues