Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - FAO / WHO / WTO / Codex - 2019

WTO News Item, 22 March 2019

WTO / SPS – SPS Committee Meeting:  Fall armyworm: a case study on how the SPS Agreement enables access to tools, technologies

WTO members discussed the role of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures in enabling access to SPS tools and technologies and facilitating international trade, using the fall armyworm pest as a case study. The discussion was part of a thematic session prior to meetings of the SPS Committee held on 21-22 March, where members drew conclusions from a second thematic session on equivalence and debated four new specific trade concerns.

The thematic session on the fall armyworm (FAW) was one of the proposed discussions under the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement, which is set for completion in 2020. The meeting provided a useful opportunity to increase WTO members' understanding of this pest. Native to the tropical regions of the western hemisphere, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has confirmed FAW's presence in 39 African countries since it was first detected in West Africa in early 2016. FAW is a highly mobile, fast-growing pest that can feed on 80 different crop species but largely prefers maize, posing a significant threat to food security, income and livelihoods.

The session provided information on the nature and the impact of the spread of FAW across the globe, the challenges for small-scale farmers, and the tools and technologies available to cope with the pest. Global, regional and domestic approaches enabling regulatory frameworks to facilitate access to safe and effective tools and technologies were presented, and members shared their experiences in dealing with FAW, highlighting successes and challenges.

Over the four sessions of the discussion, emphasis was placed on: the importance of scientific evidence and risk assessment as well as non-discrimination, harmonization, transparency and technical assistance; the need for an integrated pest management framework and for greater cooperation in improving infrastructures; and the relevance of enhancing experience-sharing in dealing with FAW. Suggestions were made to build on the exchanges as a contribution to IPPC's 2020 International Year of Plant Health.

Also in the context of the Fifth Review, the Committee held the second part of a thematic session on equivalence, an important principle of the SPS Agreement which encourages WTO members to accept one another's SPS measures even if they are different from their own so long as an equivalent level of protection is provided.

Discussions covered WTO members' experiences in the implementation of equivalence and were divided into three sessions: the first one focused on experiences in the implementation of equivalence for specific SPS measures or groups of SPS measures; the second on systems-based equivalence; and the third on other approaches to equivalence, including regional approaches.  

Members agreed that equivalence is an important trade facilitating tool, given the prominent role of food and agricultural trade in today's world. While acknowledging differences in terms of implementation – e.g. when applied to food controls or pest management - members agreed on the key role the "appropriate level of protection" plays as the relevant benchmark to assess the health outcomes of alternative processes or methods. They agreed to reflect on the outcomes of the thematic session and consider possible next steps on the subject. 

The Committee agreed to hold a workshop on transparency and SPS coordination mechanisms in conjunction with their next formal meeting in July as well as a thematic session on approval procedures in November.

New specific trade concerns (STCs)

EU restrictions on chlorothalonil

At the regular Committee meeting, Colombia raised concerns regarding the European Union's restrictions on the use of a specific pesticide (chlorothalonil) – a concern also shared by the United States, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Bolivia and Turkey. According to these members, the European Food Safety Authority has not completed a science-based risk assessment to guide the EU’s future action on maximum residue limits (MRLs) and argued that the EU is classifying chlorothalonil as a hazard while citing uncertainty around genotoxicity to ban its use. The perception of uncertainty is not the same as actual identification of risk and no action should be taken on chlorothalonil MRLs prior to the conclusion of a comprehensive risk assessment to support any changes to existing MRLs and import tolerances, they said.

The EU said it proposed not to renew the approval of chlorothalonil and had notified third countries of the draft regulation via the WTO's technical barriers to trade (TBT) procedure. The measure did not lead to trade disruptions, as it does not amend the MRLs for the substance and provides for a grace period for phasing out the use of products containing chlorothalonil, the EU representative said. The representative further explained that a risk assessment had been carried out and that the use of this pesticide was found not to conform to the level of protection required by the EU.

EU transitional periods for MRLs and international consultations

Colombia raised concerns regarding EU transitional periods for MRLs and international consultations regarding these transition periods. Concern was also voiced by Panama, Guatemala, Paraguay, Turkey, Honduras, Ecuador, Chile, the United States, China, Costa Rica, Brazil and Peru. As in previous SPS Committee meetings, the EU was asked to identify the “legitimate factors” other than risk that are considered by the EU when evaluating import tolerance requests, and to provide a list of these factors so that members can know what to expect in the evaluation process. The EU was also asked to explain how these factors and its precautionary principle relate to achieving an appropriate level of protection.

The EU said that its measures followed thorough risk analyses and that it fulfils all its obligations under both the TBT and the SPS Agreements, including transparency provisions and notification provisions. The EU regularly notifies its trading partners of planned measures that fall within the scope of either of these agreements. Information and comments received in response to these notifications are duly considered and taken into account before a final decision, and detailed replies are regularly sent to those trading partners that submitted comments, the EU representative said.

Indonesia's authorization procedures for beef

Brazil raised concerns regarding what it considers Indonesia's undue delays in authorization procedures for imported Brazilian beef. Brazil took the floor to recall that a WTO dispute has already found that Indonesia unduly delayed approval of veterinary health certificates for poultry meat from Brazil.

Indonesia responded that it had conducted a risk analysis on Brazilian boneless beef. It would inform the Brazilian authorities of the results and would clarify as soon as possible the process of fulfilling the approval requirements for the importation of beef.

Korea's restrictions on poultry

The European Union voiced concern regarding the Republic of Korea's import restrictions on poultry due to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), asking Korea to follow the standards of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), particularly on regionalization. Korea said it has adapted its measures to recognize regionalization of animal diseases in accordance with international regulations and standards and stated that if an affected country recovers its HPAI free status in accordance with OIE standards and requests the Korean government to lift the import ban, Korea would resume imports from that country after review.

Korea also acknowledged that some EU member states are interested in the recognition of HPAI regionalization by Korea but indicated that before making a decision to recognize regionalization in a country, Korea conducts import risk assessments to determine whether its animal health system, including its surveillance and movement restrictions, provides the required level of health protection. The same process will be carried out for EU members - the requesting country has to provide the necessary evidence that it maintains disease-free areas or areas of low-disease prevalence, it added.

Issues previously raised

STCs previously brought up in the SPS Committee included six other EU SPS-related policies: maximum residue limits of certain pesticides; legislation on endocrine disruptors; the new definition of the fungicide folpet; the review of legislation on veterinary medicinal products; EU Commission Decision 202/994/EC on animal products; and restrictions on poultry meat due to salmonella.

The EU raised previously addressed issues in the Committee, including: the Russian Federation's import restrictions on ruminants due to bluetongue and on processed fishery products from Estonia; South Africa's and China's import restrictions on poultry due to highly pathogenic avian influenza; the United States' import restrictions on apples and pears; and Indonesia's approval procedures for animal products.

The SPS Committee considered previously raised concerns regarding: Viet Nam's import restrictions in its draft law on animal production and market access requirements for ''white'' offals and other products; Guatemala's restrictions on egg products; New Zealand's import health standard for vehicles, machinery and equipment; and Indonesia's food safety measures affecting horticultural products and animal products.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Committee is tentatively scheduled for the week of 15 July 2019.

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