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

WTO News Item, 10 and 11 July 2012

SPS COMMITTEE – Report of Meeting: Members hear concerns about EU move on cocoa, accept new African observers

WTO members meeting on 10–11 July 2012 as the committee dealing with food safety and animal and plant health, heard concerns about proposed new EU limits on cadmium in cocoa and chocolate, and agreed to accept a number of additional organizations as observers, three of them from Africa.

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee also saw gaps narrowing over a proposal to formalize talks to defuse disputes with the help of its chairperson. But with several difficult issues remaining, they agreed to work over the summer before considering a new draft document at the next meeting in October.

They discussed five new specific trade concerns and nine that had been raised before. The new issues were: from Argentina about Japan’s foot-and-mouth-disease restrictions, and access to the US market for fresh lemon; from the EU’s about Schmallenberg virus restrictions; and from India about Chinese Taipei’s maximum residue levels on coffee and the EU’s testing of pesticide residues. Some issues were discussed bilaterally before the meeting and withdrawn from the agenda, and Costa Rica and the US reported they had resolved an issue over US regulations for ornamental flowers.

In informal consultations, members also continued to work on a definition for private sector standards.

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.

Cadmium in cocoa

A number of countries complained that the EU’s recent decision to amend its regulation on maximum levels of cadmium allowed in chocolate, milk chocolate and cocoa powder threatens their exports and the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa farmers. The EU said it is still preparing the new rules and pledged to listen to all the concerns.

The complaint, first raised in October 2011, is about proposed maximum levels of cadmium in cocoa products as a contribution to limiting the amount of cadmium consumers take in from all foods.

The concern is detailed in a paper from Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru (soon to be circulated as G/SPS/GEN/1173). Also speaking in support were Guatemala, Dominican Rep, Venezuela, Cuba, Jamaica and Costa Rica.

They urged the EU to clarify the contribution of different types of chocolate to consumers’ weekly or monthly cadmium intake, to work with scientific experts to establish an agreed method for setting maximum permitted levels, and to research and examine more data on the subject, to comply with the SPS Agreement’s requirements and to be consistent in setting its standards for various products.

They also referred to recommendations from a workshop on cadmium in cocoa and cocoa products held at the London headquarters of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO, and called for the EU to give producers at least five years to adjust.

The EU informed members about latest developments. It said the focus of the new regulations is on products that do not currently have maximum limits, such as cocoa products and baby food. It said a number of producers have responded to its request for data, which it is now examining.

The new regulation will go through several stages of consultations and will take into account the different impacts of various cocoa products, the EU said — for example that dark chocolate, with a higher cocoa content tends to be consumed in small quantities by adults, while children prefer milk chocolate, with less cocoa but in higher quantities.

The EU is listening to concerns, particularly about the impact on small farmers, and is planning a phase-in period to allow producers to adjust, it said.

Although the issue was raised under the “other business” agenda item — normally used to raise new issues without any lengthy discussion — the number of comments and the EU’s explanation meant it was discussed in more detail than some of the other trade concerns.


The committee agreed to accept the African Union (AU), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC), and Gulf Co-operation Council Standardization Organization (GSO) as observers.

The four are accepted “ad hoc”, their observer status confirmed for each meeting, as has been the case since 2009. This is because members are still considering whether additional  criteria for accepting new observers permanently are needed. No decisions were made in this meeting on applications from a number of other organizations, including those that deal with particular commodities, and some with broader scientific or environmental roles.

In March 1995, the SPS Committee accepted its “three sisters” as observers — the three recognized international standards-setting bodies for SPS: Codex Alimentarius for food safety, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

Other “regular” observers are: the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Trade Centre (ITC), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Before this meeting, the ad hoc observers were: the African Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organismo Internacional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (OIRSA), which works among some Latin American countries, and Latin American Economic System (SELA), Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), Community of the Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC) , West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and Agency for International Trade Information and Cooperation (AITIC).

Making these organizations observers also ties in with technical assistance they receive from some developed countries on sanitary and phytosanitary issues. Requests from seven other organizations are pending. (More information in Secretariat document G/SPS/GEN/1157)

Ad hoc mediation

Earlier in the week, delegations narrowed some of their differences in 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.

This was achieved by the then chairperson, Ms Miriam Chaves of Argentina, going through five key issues instead of trying to amend the latest draft:

She reported through her successor that members were approaching consensus on some points such as the need for at least some basic information to be reported to the committee, that the mediator’s role would be principally to help the two sides discuss the problem, and that a non-binding target of six months could be set for completing the consultations.

Among the unresolved issues are how the procedure should relate to the separate Doha Round talks on non-agricultural market access, she said.

The possibility of ad hoc mediation by the chairperson or anyone else accepted by the countries concerned is included in Art.12.2 of the SPS Agreement (see “magic number”).


Ms Maria Albarece of the Philippines (elected at the start of the meeting to replace Ms Miriam Chaves of Argentina)

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

Specific trade concerns

New issues

Issues previously raised

Consideration of specific notifications received

Information on resolution of issues

To go to main Foodlaw-Reading Index page, click here.