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WTO News item, 15 and 17 October 2014
For the original WTO web page containing active links to additional documents, see: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news14_e/sps_15oct14_e.htm
WTO members meeting as the committee dealing with food safety and animal and plant health on 15–17 October 2014 received information from Russia on a number of issues but also heard complaints about some of the country’s sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.
Russia was only one of about a dozen members involved in this meeting’s routine exchanges of information and queries about policies causing concern, but this time it featured the most. The other countries included: Peru, Japan, the EU, the US, India, Ukraine, Rep. Korea, China, South Africa, Australia and Turkey.
Overall, the products covered in the meeting included pork, beef, rice, fruit and vegetables including mangoes, and fish and seafood including catfish, vegetable oils, and “novel foods” (discussed in the committee since 2006). More details are here, and the full list of issues is here.
Members also continued with tasks aimed at improving the committee’s work and ultimately to help trade flow more smoothly at a time when non-tariff trade barriers are becoming more important. The committee recorded members’ recent agreement on a new procedure to help them settle their differences on SPS measures, using the chairperson as a mediator, confirming a tentative deal struck at the last meeting in July.
But informal meetings on subjects that included a proposed working definition for private sector SPS standards remained inconclusive. The discussions will continue at the next meeting in March 2015, chairperson Lillian Bwalya of Zambia reported.
The committee, which consists of all 160 WTO member governments, monitors how countries are applying the WTO SPS Agreement, which deals with food safety and animal and plant health, and discusses issues arising from these rules and from individual countries’ measures.
Information and specific trade concerns
Members expressed concerns — some new, some repeated — about each other’s food safety and animal and plant health measures affecting a range of products. Broader and long-running concerns were also raised, including about measures countries have adopted to deal with mad cow disease (BSE or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and whether these apply appropriate criteria such as international standards, science or “regionalization” (distinguishing between different regions within a territory) — this time the EU welcomed Saudi Arabia easing its import restrictions, and urged China, Australia, the US and Turkey to do the same (concern 193 in http://spsims.wto.org).
Members also shared information with each other about their regulations or SPS administrations (Russia, the US and Belize), radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power station (Japan), the latest situation with African swine fever found in wild and farmed pigs (the EU and Russia), and about their disease-free or pest-free status (Brazil and Uruguay).
All of this comes under the SPS Committee’s main task of monitoring how countries are implementing food safety and animal and plant health measures under the WTO Agreement, and of discussing issues arising from that, including the work of recognized international standards-setting bodies. Its deliberations range from comments on specific measures to broader principles.
A major contribution to this task is the information members share with each other through notifications to the WTO. Some specific concerns are responses to notifications; others are not. But the concerns raised are considerably smaller than the volume of notifications. From 1995 to 15 September 2014, members had submitted 17,305 notifications, while the number of specific trade concerns was 375.
Among the concerns raised in this meeting (old issues are identified by their number in the spsims.wto.org database) were:
In just over two years since Russia became a WTO member in August 2012 it has become one of the more active participants in the SPS Committee. It has routinely provided information on its SPS regime and its disease situation and notified 52 regular and emergency notifications. In this meeting Russia also described the technical assistance it has been giving to developing countries on SPS issues.
Before this meeting Russia had been the subject of five specific trade concerns — plus three new ones introduced in this meeting — and raised two concerns of its own. In the year up to 15 September 2014, Russia notified the most emergency measures: 27 notifications or 28% of the total from all members, according to the latest Secretariat report on transparency (document G/SPS/GEN/804/Rev.7)
In its exchanges Russia acknowledged the political background to some of the issues. It called for cooperation, rather than confrontation and said political disagreements spoil the environment for finding a solution.
Russia’s ban on fruit and vegetables from Poland.
Russia banned fruit and vegetables from Poland from 1 August, arguing that a rising number of consignments were found to contain pests (western flower thrips or “Frankliniella occidentalis”, an insect; and oriental fruit or peach moth, “grapholita molesta”) or residues of pesticides and nitrates, or to have been shipped with falsified documents.
The EU, which raised the concern, said the numbers of consignments was too small to justify the ban: only 0.1% of all consignments from Poland were found to have these pests, the EU said. Overall, the ban is disproportionate, not supported by a risk assessment, and restricts trade more than necessary, it said.
Russia initially banned imports from Poland from 2005 to 2008. It said it reintroduced the band when the numbers of intercepted consignments increased.
African swine fever.
Russia and the EU updated members on the latest situation African swine fever in Eurasia and Europe, each describing the measures it has taken to tackle the spread of the disease, which is found in wild boars and domestic pigs, and blaming the other for failing to deal properly with the risks.
They presented this as “information from members” rather than “specific trade concerns” — Russian restrictions on EU pigs and pork are now the subject of a full-fledged WTO legal dispute brought by the EU. Russia said the disease is spreading in Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia, casting doubt on the EU’s guarantees that its controls are effective.
The EU countered that the disease has spread indirectly from Russia through Belarus and more recently had also spread directly from Russia, including by suspected illegal trade. No case of the disease has been related to legal trade of products, the EU said, and complained that the amount of information it shares has not been matched by others, including the failure of Russia and Belarus to provide information on their surveillance and control. (See also the March 2014 meeting.)
Russia introduced new requirements for international veterinary certificates for Ukrainian goods on 1 September 2014. Ukraine objected to the increased requirement but Russia said this was in response to the change of Ukraine’s current veterinary control system following the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Russia’s new palm oil regulation.
Malaysia said Russia’s new limit of 0.9 milliequivalents per kg (a measure of content or residues) for the peroxide value in palm oil is considerably stricter than the 10 meq/kg limit of Codex Alimentarius (which sets standards for food), lacks scientific justification and can be impossible to achieve in some climates. Malaysia’s concern was raised at short notice and Russia did not reply.
Nuclear power plant accident(concerns 359 and 354).
Japan again complained about measures taken by Rep. Korea and China as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, despite having adequate controls to prevent contaminated food from entering domestic and export markets. The discussion was similar to that of the last meeting in July.
Japan said it “will soon have no choice but to resort to other actions” under WTO agreements, if Rep. Korea persists with its import bans and testing requirements on fish and other products without providing information on the concrete steps it will take to lift the measures. Japan described the measures as non-transparent, without scientific basis, discriminatory and restricting trade more than necessary. Rep. Korea replied that it was still working on a risk assessment based on information that Japan has supplied.
Japan said Chinese restrictions applied to 10 prefectures out of the country’s total of 47, and in some cases to other areas, are also excessive. China said the restrictions only apply to “a few seriously polluted regions and several kinds of high-risk products,” and that the volume of Japanese food exports to Japan is recovering, reaching 75% of the 2010 total by 2013. China added that it is studying data supplied by Japan and that it will review the measures based on research and risk analysis.
India reported that it was close to settling a concern about access of buffalo meat to the Russian market, and that it has reached agreement with the US on basmati rice and with Japan on marine products — in both cases the products are now traded normally, India said.
At the heart of the SPS Committee’s work is information that members share with each other through notifications to the WTO. The Secretariat’s latest report on transparency includes figures for the numbers of notifications received, how many of these come from developing countries, which countries have notified the most, which types of products are the subject of notifications, how often international standards are cited, and how often periods of time are offered for comments to be received before measures take effect: document G/SPS/GEN/804/Rev.7.
These are some of the trade issues or concerns discussed or information supplied by members.
Information from members
Specific trade concerns