WTO News Item, 10 - 11 November 2011
Note: the following has been abbreviated so as to only reflect matters relating to food or matters of a general nature. The full item, with links to relevant documents can be seen on the WTO web site at: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news11_e/tbt_10nov11_e.htm
Two measures on genetically modified organisms were among a dozen new concerns and over 40 older issues, including plain packaging for tobacco products, raised when WTO members met as the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee on 10-11 November 2011.
The committee also reviewed for the last time how well China has implemented the TBT Agreement since it joined the WTO in 2001. China’s membership agreement included a “Transitional Review Mechanism” requiring eight annual reviews on a range of subjects including TBT with a final one after 10 years.
And it agreed to test a proposed way to speed up its discussion on specific trade concerns. Although these are core to the committee’s responsibility of monitoring how well members are implementing the TBT Agreement, some exchanges on unresolved issues — two were raised for the 27th time in this meeting — have become repetitive, leaving less time to discuss more general subjects.
One of the proposed solutions is to allow concerns to be recorded as unresolved and still on the table without members having to speak about them if they have nothing new to say.
Specific trade concerns: overall
The 54 trade concerns raised in this meeting ranged from standards and certification to labelling of tobacco products (Australia’s measures), alcoholic drinks (Thailand, Brazil, EU, Colombia, South Africa, Kenya), drinks with added caffeine (Mexico), food additives (China) and genetically modified organisms in food (Peru, EU).
The goods concerned and their effects ranged from graphics products (Argentina’s measures), wifi and other secure information technology products (China), cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (India, Turkey, Rep of Korea, EU), chemicals (EU), and various foods, drinks (including alcohol) and tobacco products (many countries’ measures), to hazardous waste and polluting products (EU, US, China) and emissions (Colombia).
Raised for a record-breaking 27th time were the EU’s Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) and Directive 2002/95/EC on the Restriction of the Use of certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) and Directive 2002/96/EC on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
Among the common themes were: requiring certification to be made by laboratories with limited capacity in the importing country rather than by internationally recognized labs elsewhere; whether measures are justified technically, scientifically or whether they are based on international standards; the costs that measures would impose for example on small and medium enterprises; requests for updated information or notifications, particularly for measures that are being modified.
A number of countries replied that they are evaluating their proposed measures, taking comments into account.
Genetically modified organisms
Two new issues attracting wider comment were related to products containing genetically modified organisms.
Peru’s draft decree on labelling for genetically modified foods
Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile and Argentina said these would unjustifiably obstruct trade and discriminate against some suppliers because there is no basis for treating these products any differently from other foods. Peru said it is still evaluating the draft, taking comments into account.
GM pollen in honey
The European Court of justice recently ruled that pollen found in honey should be considered an “ingredient” rather than a natural constituent. This means that pollen from genetically modified (GM) plants would have to be approved as ingredients for honey sold in the EU.
In a repeat of the recent discussion in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Canada and El Salvador objected to this because it has created uncertainty and caused EU imports to fall. They observed that the Codex Alimentarius’s international standard does not treat pollen as an ingredient and they urged the EU to act to remove the trade obstacle.
The EU said it is striving to cause the least disruption to trade. The ruling applies to EU honey as well as imports, it said. For the pollen concerned in the court case, from genetically modified variety (MON810), the EU Food Safety Authority recently ruled that the pollen is safe. Therefore it is now up to Monsanto, which developed MON810, to apply for approval for honey with this type of pollen.
For pollen not yet approved in the EU but allowed in exporting countries, the EU would have to approve it before the honey could be imported, it added.
China’s final review
This last review of how China has implemented the TBT Agreement since it joined the WTO heard comments and questions from Japan (document G/TBT/W/342), the EU (G/TBT/W/344), the US and Mexico. China submitted a document (G/TBT/W/343) describing its recent measures in TBT.
Responding orally to members’ comments, China described the many actions it has taken to conform to its WTO obligations under all the WTO Agreements, including over 850 TBT notifications, and a large number of improvements to its procedures. It said it would continue to live up to its obligations and work within the committee.
Members praised China for making its many of its regulations and policies more transparent and predictable. The EU was particularly encouraged by a gradual increase in China’s calls for comments on proposed measures.
But they were concerned that these improvements are not applied consistently across all agencies and not by many local authorities. They called for improvements in transparency, including the publication of rules, regulations and procedures, and in China’s notifications to the WTO.
They said that some standards, certification procedures and conformity assessments are too complex, sometimes too strict when compared to risks involved, can be made compulsory without warning or publication, can have inadequate opportunities for foreign companies or governments to comment or provide other input, and can involve too many agencies. They urged China to use international standards where available instead of its own, which give local companies an advantage, and to recognize foreign test laboratories and conformity assessment bodies.
Among the issues causing the greatest concern were information technology products, wireless (wifi) and security technology, cosmetics, medical devices and motor vehicles.
The specific trade concerns
As documented for the meeting
Numbers at the end of each item refer to numbers in the list of trade concerns in document G/TBT/GEN/74/Rev.9