SPEECH/05/307, 27 May 2005
Conference on EU Exports and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures - Brussels , 27 May 2005
The subject of Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards is a crucial dimension of trade policy and we need an open debate about the complex issues it raises.
I say that in all conviction and sincerity. But to tell you the truth if someone had told me ten months ago when I was first nominated as a European Commissioner, that I would be spending a morning discussing a subject of this technicality and complexity, I would not have believed them. Even when I was handed the Trade portfolio, I had little appreciation of how significantly this issue would figure. But in this job, I now know you have to be a fast learner.
What has struck me most in my first six months as EU Trade Commissioner is that the future challenges in trade policy will not be in the field of traditional tariffs, but in the so-called non-tariff barriers to trade, to which the question of standards is crucial. And Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures are prominent amongst these.
If not managed with care, these measures can be impediments to trade which are difficult to justify. Managed successfully, they can be a stimulus to trade: enhancing the opportunity to exploit comparative advantage to the mutual benefit of all.
My first exposure to this when I came into the job, were the arguments of developing countries, who pointed to problems they have when exporting to Europe . But then to my surprise, I learned it was not just developing countries who make this point. I heard many complaints on wood packaging during my first official visit to Washington in February.
Even more important, I was quick to recognise that SPS is as much, if not more so, an issue for European exporters as it is for importers.
Economic operators who have to deal with SPS measures on a day to day basis have often highlighted the difficulties they face when they export their products to third countries. The Russian Federation is no doubt the most recent and striking example - although there are many others.
I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss both the export and the import aspect of SPS today. We need to begin a dialogue with the European Parliament, Member States , economic operators in animal and plant products as well as third countries on these issues.
As EU Trade Commissioner I am committed to open markets and to a clear regulatory framework as a means to foster competitiveness and sustainable development both for ourselves and for our trading partners.
We need to ask ourselves when it comes to open markets for our agricultural exports, whether our present arrangements are efficient and successful in meeting that goal. Arguably this is the case, when we act on the basis of a bilateral Veterinary Agreement or a Free Trade Agreement containing a chapter on SPS. In these cases, there is a harmonised approach, but unfortunately they are all too rare.
Equally, I was struck when first informed that some of the long standing SPS barriers that our exporters face have been in existence for 25 years. Yet we have still not been able to tackle them effectively.
Part of the problem may be due to the lack of specific veterinary and phyto-sanitary knowledge especially in EU delegations. It is after all a rather new field of multilateral rule making. So the issue facing us is whether we are willing to make a concerted effort to raise the level of SPS knowledge.
With regard to the regulatory framework, we also need to have a frank discussion about whether our own rules are clear enough when it comes to exports and the issuing of export certificates. It must, to say the least, be confusing for a Third Country to receive one of 25 different national certificates for a product that is subject to harmonised EU rules and therefore has to meet the same requirements in all Member States.
Like Henry Kissinger - many of our trading partners in the SPS field might well want to ask: Who do I call when I want to speak to Europe about a SPS problem? Is it the Commission? And if it is 25 Member States, where do I start?
In thinking about the issue of one contact point when it comes to our exports, we need to consider the role of our Border Inspection Posts. At present they are high profile for our trading partners because of the role they play in the control of imports to the EU. Could they also play a role in export certification? Is there a case for a Community Veterinary/plant health service? I ask this question form the standpoint of practical common sense, not starry-eyed integrationism.
And what about the import requirements that third countries impose? Should we accept requirements from some third countries which go beyond our own standards, or which allegedly discriminate between individual EU Member States or between EU Member States and other WTO Member States ?
I believe there is still much scope for closer cooperation within the EU on SPS barriers to our exports. We are stronger if we act as a single market with a single voice, not only internally but also in our trade relations. I want to discuss with economic operators and Member States how our actions can be better integrated and harmonised. I do not have a well worked out policy or even a partly sketched road-map in my mind: I look forward to defining this together with you.
A better integrated, more harmonised stance in dealing with our exports will also benefit us in our discussions with third countries on their imports and the role of the EU's SPS measures.
In particular, in relation to our own SPS measures, we should not shy away from taking a fresh look at how we can best work more closely with Developing Countries to meet their needs. First and foremost how do we enable them, through effective capacity building, to meet our own and international standards? But in addition, a closer working relationship with Developing countries would also strengthen efforts on our side to increase transparency in our regulatory system, for example by accelerating the process of harmonisation in the application of Border Inspection Controls.
Rules are not bad per se for Developing Countries. On the contrary, they can act as a catalyst for change, and by doing so increase developing countries' competitive advantage and contribute to more sustainable and profitable trade in the long term.
And in the consumer driven, media driven world we all live in - a world of food scares, single issue campaigns and intense public scrutiny of issues affecting human health - rules are facts of life. They will not go away. The insistence of consumers in the EU and elsewhere on their entitlement to buy products that meet a proper level of sanitary and health requirements is legitimate and has to be taken seriously. But we must not allow our standards to be based on prejudice, or as a response to pressure groups. The basis for them has to be sound scientific analysis. And in applying that sound analysis, we should always adopt the option that restricts trade the least.
In the long run, we all have to gain from a closer international co-operation on these issues. This can be pursued through a number of different avenues.
First of all, we need to help Developing Countries to improve their capacity to abide by SPS rules and requirements and help them provide the infrastructure to do so. This is crucial if they are to be properly and progressively integrated into the global trading system which is one of the central objectives of EU trade policy
This is why I firmly believe we need to increase substantially our efforts to assist Developing Countries in meeting our standards. Specific provision for trade related technical assistance in the field of SPS should be included in our own aid programmes for example, cultivation or breeding programs, food chain integration programs for slaughter houses, etc just to name some concrete examples.
I will be working closely with my colleagues in the Commission to bring this about.
Secondly, we should improve coordination between European and International aid donors. We also need to increase coherence between WTO and other international organisations such as IMF and World Bank. I hope that the upcoming G8 Summit in the UK will create a positive momentum in that regard.
Thirdly, we should do all we can to help Developing Countries identify and focus on those products which can easily be exported to the EU. The sensitivities of EU consumers are highest with products such as meat where Developing Countries face the most problems in meeting hygiene and other requirements. Sensitivities are lower when it comes to plants and vegetables.
Fourthly, we should put more effort into standard setting at an international level. We need to ensure effective participation of Developing Countries in the formulation of these standards. This can help us to take on board the specific needs of Developing Countries from the beginning and allow us to agree specific carve-outs and transition periods where this is appropriate.
Unfortunately, international standard setting organisations such as CODEX are not at present sufficiently equipped for the importance of their task. We need to continue to push for harmonisation of SPS product and process requirements through the establishment of international rules.
By working together with a view to agree on transparent, clear and harmonised rules for imports and exports, and by treating our trading partners the way we would like to be treated ourselves, I am confident that we can make trade work in the interests of all.