‘SPA and TBT Agreement of WTO’ in News

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The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the “SPS Agreement”) entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization on 1 January 1995. It concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations.

This introduction discusses the text of the SPS Agreement as it appears in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, signed in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994. This agreement and others contained in the Final Act, along with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as amended (GATT 1994), are part of the treaty which established the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO superseded the GATT as the umbrella organization for international trade.

The WTO Secretariat has prepared this text to assist public understanding of the SPS Agreement. It is not intended to provide legal interpretation of the agreement.

For the purposes of the SPS Agreement, sanitary and phytosanitary measures are defined as any measures applied:

to protect human or animal life from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in their food;

to protect human life from plant- or animal-carried diseases;

to protect animal or plant life from pests, diseases, or disease-causing organisms;

to prevent or limit other damage to a country from the entry, establishment or spread of pests.

These include sanitary and phytosanitary measures taken to protect the health of fish and wild fauna, as well as of forests and wild flora.

Measures for environmental protection (other than as defined above), to protect consumer interests, or for the welfare of animals are not covered by the SPS Agreement. These concerns, however, are addressed by other WTO agreements (i.e., the TBT Agreement or Article XX of GATT 1994).

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, commonly referred to as the TBT Agreement, is an international treaty administered by the World Trade Organization. It was last renegotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, with its present form entering into force with the establishment of the WTO at the beginning of 1995, binding on all WTO members.

The TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) Agreement covers all technical regulations, voluntary standards and the procedures to ensure that these are met, except when these are sanitary or phytosanitary measures as defined by the SPS Agreement. It is thus the type of measure which determines whether it is covered by the TBT Agreement, but the purpose of the measure which is relevant in determining whether a measure is subject to the SPS Agreement.

TBT measures could cover any subject, from car safety to energy-saving devices, to the shape of food cartons. To give some examples pertaining to human health, TBT measures could include pharmaceutical restrictions, or the labelling of cigarettes. Most measures related to human disease control are under the TBT Agreement, unless they concern diseases which are carried by plants or animals (such as rabies). In terms of food, labelling requirements, nutrition claims and concerns, quality and packaging regulations are generally not considered to be sanitary or phytosanitary measures and hence are normally subject to the TBT Agreement.

In July 2018, the WTO members showed a high level of engagement in advancing discussions on the Fifth Review of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) at a meeting of the SPS Committee in July. The SPS Committee also reviewed specific SPS concerns raised by members that are affecting international trade, and elected Ms Noncedo Vutula of South Africa as the new committee chair.

SPS measures are adopted by governments to ensure that food is safe for consumers, and to prevent the spread of pests or diseases among animals and plants. These measures apply to both domestically produced and imported goods.

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) aims to ensure these measures protect human, animal, plant life or health while avoiding unnecessary barriers to trade.

The SPS IMS is a comprehensive database allowing users to search all notified SPS measures and Specific Trade Concerns (STCs) raised in the SPS Committee. Users can also browse information on SPS National Notification Authorities and Enquiry Points, as well as other SPS-related documents circulated at the WTO.

The SPS Information Management System (SPS IMS) includes all SPS-related measures notified by WTO members and the trade-related concerns discussed in SPS Committee meetings.

The SPS Committee discussed eight proposals submitted by 27 members, including many developing and least-developed countries (LDCs), for work under the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement, which is set for completion in 2020.

The proposals cover recognition of equivalence of SPS measures, and in particular systems approaches; adaptation of SPS measures to regional conditions, including pest- or disease-free areas; transparency and notifications under the SPS vs the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement; national coordination among SPS agencies; and trade issues related to pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs).

In addition, members indicated interest in initiating work on risk assessment, appropriate levels of protection and the role of science; efforts to address fall armyworm infestation; and control, inspection and approval procedures (Annex C of the SPS Agreement), following up on the discussions at a workshop on this issue held on 9 and 10 July with the participation of 130 government officials.

Members engaged in discussion on the ongoing multilateral efforts to develop standards on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The debate was prompted by the European Union’s new veterinary drug legislation, which was recently agreed but not yet adopted. The EU said that the objective of the new regulation is to promote the prudent use of antimicrobials, for example by avoiding its routine prophylactic and metaphylactic use, reserving certain antimicrobials for treatment of infections in humans only and banning the use of antimicrobials in animals for promoting growth or increasing yield.

While sharing with the EU the view that AMR poses a serious public health issue that requires urgent attention, some members – Argentina, the United States, Colombia, Chile, Canada, Brazil and Australia – voiced concerns about Brussels’ approach to managing potential health risks by limiting trade in animal products, as it is likely to have an unnecessary restrictive impact on international commerce. These members said that by taking this approach the EU may undermine ongoing multilateral efforts to address this complex global challenge. In particular, they cautioned that potential EU restrictions applied extraterritorially will undermine multilateral efforts to combat AMR, such as those currently being undertaken collaboratively by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Codex Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Japan raised concerns regarding New Zealand’s draft import health standards for vehicles, machinery and equipment which require all used vehicles (cars and trucks) exported from Japan to be pre-approved by the government due to the spike in the number of brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) intercepted in shipments from the Japanese market. Japan complained about the short deadline provided by Wellington for comments on the notification and asked New Zealand to provide at least six months for preparation between the publication of the measure and its entry into force.

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