Food Law News - FAO/WHO/WTO/Codex - 2012

WTO News item, 28 - 29 March 2012

SPS COMMITTEE – Report of Meeting - Indonesia’s port closure causes concern among fruit and vegetable exporters plus numerous other topics

A new concern about Indonesia closing its largest port to horticultural imports was among issues raised when WTO members met as the WTO committee dealing with food safety and animal and plant health on 27-28 March 2012.

A group of about 12 countries also complained in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee about an increase in the number of food safety and animal and plant health measures obstructing trade illegitimately because they are not based on international standards or science.

Concern about Indonesia’s port closure was among the three new and 12 old concerns raised in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee.

Members also heard on-going questions and comments, for example about measures taken against mad cow disease, Chinese Taipei’s ban on meat from animals fed with the lean-enhancing additive ractopamine, China’s methanol content requirement for some alcoholic drinks, and EU regulations for “novel foods” — including products considered traditional particularly in Latin America. The EU reported on the newly-discovered Schmallenberg virus, which has triggered a number of trade restrictions.

The committee learnt that 328 trade concerns have been raised since the SPS Agreement took effect 17 years ago. It heard a report on the latest consultations on how to deal with private sector standards, using the services of the chair to mediate in disputes between members in order to avoid litigation, and issues arising from the third review of how well the SPS Agreement is being implemented (in which there were no new proposals).

The Secretariat reported that 242 WTO technical assistance and training activities in SPS had been organized in Geneva and around the world since 1994, 21 of them in 2011 (document G/SPS/GEN/521/Rev.7). Observer organizations and individual countries also provide technical assistance. This is a key service to help developing countries implement SPS measures and meet standards required in their export markets.

Some details

The SPS Committee’s main task is to monitor how countries are implementing food safety and animal and plant health measures under the WTO Agreement, and to discuss issues arising from that, including the work of recognized international standards-setting bodies. Its deliberations range from comments on specific measures to broader principles.

International standards

The complaint about measures that are unscientific or not based on international standards came from Argentina, Australia, Brazil (which presented the argument), Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines and the US (document G/SPS/GEN/1143/Rev.1), supported by Mexico, South Africa and the EU. India reminded members of provisions on monitoring the use of international standards in the SPS Agreement.

 “The increase in the number of SPS measures that are not based on international standards, guidelines and recommendations or that have inadequate scientific justification is a point of concern readily raised by many members in the SPS Committee and other contexts. These measures often unduly restrict trade and appear to be associated with objectives that are not deemed as legitimate under international trade rules,” the paper says.

It calls for members to confirm:

Reports from members

Schmallenberg virus. The committee heard a report from the EU on the situation with a newly discovered virus affecting cattle, sheep and goats, known as the Schmallenberg virus. Since November 2011, the disease, which is transmitted by insects such as mosquitos and midges, has been detected in Germany (originally in Schmallenberg), the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain.

The EU said the virus is similar to one found in Asia, Africa and Australia (akbane of the genus orthobunyvirus), and both are not considered a danger to humans. Countries’ reactions should be proportionate to the situation, the EU said. It added that it has not taken any trade measures against the virus and urged other countries not to do so either.

Brazil has notified emergency measures on imports of genetic materials from these animals (document G/SPS/N/BRA/798), but other countries are reported to have taken similar action without notifying the WTO.

Some of the specific trade concerns

New issues

Some issues raised in previous meetings

Since the beginning: 328 concerns

The number of SPS trade concerns raised between 1995 — when the WTO was set up and the SPS Agreement took effect — and 2011 totalled 328, according to the Secretariat’s latest round up, 87-page document G/SPS/GEN/204/Rev.12. (The total will be 331 when the three new concerns raised in this meeting are added.)

Number of new issues raised per year

In 2011, 16 new concerns were raised, well below the 2002 peak of 43. The largest number of concerns over the 17 years were about animal health and diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans (“zoonoses”); 29% were about food safety, 25% about plant health and 6% about other issues such as certification requirements or translation.

Animal health issues dominate

Among the issues under animal health and transmissible diseases (zoonoses): 35% were about mad cow disease (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs, particularly bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE); 24% were about foot and mouth disease; 10% were about bird flu (avian influenza); and 31% about other concerns.

Developing countries are increasingly active in raising concerns: since 2008, they raised half or more of the new concerns in each year. Over the 17 years, developed countries raised 201 concerns, developing countries raised 173 concerns, sometimes with more than one raising or supporting an issue, and least developed countries raised three. (Details are in the document and in the database

Private sector standards

The chair reported that informal consultations earlier in the week produced additional ideas for developing a definition of private standards (document G/SPS/W/265), which will be revised for the next consultations in July.

Members continued to discuss the rest of the five items on the table, she said (see March 2011 meeting).

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.

Ad hoc mediation

Earlier in the week, delegations continued their informal consultations on enhancing procedures for the chairperson to help broker solutions to problems they have with each other’s measures and avoid bringing legal disputes against each other.

The chairperson reported that in the discussion of the latest draft, “members mostly expressed their preference for one set of alternative phrases or another, and did not reach consensus on these paragraphs.” Therefore the next draft will be similar to the present one, she said.

She identified five issues that members have to resolve and urged them to consult with each other in order to seek solutions:

whether the procedure would be compulsory or voluntary for the country complained against

Chairperson: Ms Miriam Beatriz Chaves, Argentina (acting chair because Mr Deny Kurnia of Indonesia has left Geneva)

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 or information supplied.

Information from members

Issues previously raised

 (Numbers are “specific trade concerns” numbers in the database)

Consideration of specific notifications received

Information on resolution of issues

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