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WTO News Item, 27 and 28 October 2016
WTO members welcomed a proposal to improve information sharing at the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) on 27-28 October. Members also reviewed trade concerns arising from measures to protect food safety, animal and plant health.
The proposal, put forward by Chile and the European Union, outlined three main areas to improve information sharing on trade measures relating to food safety, animal and plant health. These are: posting unofficial translations of notified regulations on the WTO website; holding an informal discussion on notification of trade facilitating measures in 2017; and setting up a platform to share information on members’ SPS regulatory measures on a voluntary basis.
Information sharing is a key function of the SPS Committee’s work. In the past year alone, WTO members submitted a total of 1,453 notifications, of which 1,011 were regular notifications, 65 emergency notifications, and 377 additions and corrections to regular and emergency notifications.
Earlier in the week, many committee delegates attended a workshop on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs). Participants discussed topics such as trade effects arising from different MRLs in various export markets, as well as resource constraints faced by regulators who struggle to keep up with the demand for evaluation. Members proposed ways to follow up work in this area, including enhancing information sharing and promoting harmonization and efficient use of the available resources.
Meanwhile, WTO members failed to bridge gaps on adopting a catalogue of instruments that members can use to seek information, initiate consultations and resolve trade frictions on SPS issues. The Committee’s Chairperson Ms. Marcela Otero of Chile noted that while the substance of the catalogue was not at issue, members differed on a legal disclaimer in the document.
“While some members felt that a strong disclaimer denied the value of the work of the Committee and was not needed, others indicated that they needed such a disclaimer to clarify the legal status of the document”, she said.
The committee also reviewed 20 new and repeated specific trade concerns.
Indonesia — import measures on horticultural products and animal products
The Philippines raised the issue of Indonesia’s import restrictions, claiming that despite efforts to resolve the issue bilaterally, the Philippines’ concerns seemed “to be outside the bounds of Indonesia’s priorities”.
The measures at issue include a series of Indonesian regulations on horticultural products and animal products. According to the Philippines, its horticulture exports to Indonesia have been “seriously prejudiced” by these regulations and the manner in which these are being implemented appears not to be supported by sound and scientific justifications. In addition, the Philippines cited the closure of Indonesia’s main port in Jakarta in 2012, which “grossly disadvantaged” Filipino exports such as bananas and shallots.
Indonesia’s import licensing regimes and other trade restricting measures were also the centre of two WTO legal disputes, initiated by New Zealand (DS 477) and by the United States (DS 478).
US fish import monitoring programme
China voiced concerns over proposed US rules to track and monitor fish and seafood products sold in the US market. The rules would require that products be accompanied by detailed information to trace the origin of imported seafood.
China said the proposed monitoring programme runs counter to a number of key principles of the WTO, including the obligation to inform the measure to the WTO and allow members to comment on the proposed rule. China added that the rules have no scientific justification, and would add excessive costs and complexity for seafood businesses while do little to combat illegal fishing. Chile added that it had been watching this regulation closely and urged the US to notify the measure to the WTO.
The US, in response, said that the issue did not fall within the scope of the committee, as the measure is part of a broader attempt to address illegal and misreported fishing.
EU criteria to identify endocrine disruptors
Once again, the European Union’s proposed method to identify chemicals that can interfere with hormone systems was the centre of a heated discussion.
These chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, are found in various substances including pesticides. In June 2016, the European Commission proposed to adopt “a strong, science-based approach” to identifying endocrine disruptors.
Over 20 WTO members voiced concerns over the proposed criteria. The US said the proposed definition has “far-reaching and detrimental consequences to food and agricultural production worldwide”; it urged the EU to adopt a risk-based approach and provide scientific evidence for the criteria. Argentina and China said the hazard-based risk approach that the EU has followed could give rise to the prohibition of imports that do not pose any risk to human health or the environment. A number of developing countries added that the proposal, once adopted, would be highly restrictive to agricultural trade, particularly to exports from developing countries.
The EU informed members that it notified the proposed criteria to the WTO (G/SPS/N/EU/166) and organized an information session the day before aiming to explain the proposed legislative steps. At this point, the criteria were only a proposal and it remained unclear when the criteria would be adopted, the EU said.
Japan’s food safety following Fukushima nuclear accident
Japan updated members of its food safety situation in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident. It cited reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which said that “the safety of food, fishery and agricultural production continues to remain stable”.
Japan raised issues with China and Chinese Taipei over their continued import restrictions on Japanese food. China’s prolonged risk assessment of foods and beverages from Japan is cause for concern, Japan told members. China has repeatedly reported that the risk assessment is still ongoing in China since June 2011, in spite of the large amount of information Japan has provided. “We don’t want China to be trapped in a somewhat endless loop of risk assessment,” the Japanese delegation said.
It also expressed the hope to cooperate with Chinese Taipei to lift the import restrictions.
China’s import ban on mangosteen fruits
Indonesia expressed its “serious concern” with China’s import ban on fresh Indonesian mangosteen. It said that China had imposed the ban since February 2013 due to alleged findings of pest and contamination of heavy metal on mangosteen fruits. Since then, Indonesia has taken some measures to resolve this issue which include field verification, verification of food safety testing laboratories, and discussing a draft export protocol proposed by China.
China said in response that it has carried out bilateral consultations with Indonesia to resolve the issue.