WTO News Item, 27–28 June 2006
The following are extracts from the report of the SPS Committee Meeting
Specific trade concerns: GMOs and novel foods
India 's import approval system and labelling scheme for genetically modified organisms were the subject of concerns from the US , supported by Argentina , Brazil , Canada and Chile .
These concerns were twofold. Firstly, the US requested that the measures notified to the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee in notifications G/TBT/N/IND/12 and G/TBT/N/IND/17 should be notified also to the SPS Committee. Secondly, the US questioned the scientific justification underlying the measures and the lack of clarity as to their scope.
India recalled that these measures were nothing new; its Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had been sitting since 1989. What was new was the more thorough approach to applying the existing measures. India assured members that it would consider comments at an inter-ministerial meeting planned for the end of the year and that it would consider notification of the measures in the SPS Committee.
The now not so novel issue of the EU Novel Food Regulation was raised again by Peru as a trade concern. To the concerns raised at the March 2006 SPS Committee meeting were added further disquiet on the part of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, the Philippines, India, Bolivia and Brazil.
They again questioned the justification for giving different treatment to “products of bio-diversity” traditionally consumed outside the EU, compared to food products or ingredients habitually consumed within the EU. Peru pointed to the cost involved in providing the scientific studies to back up claims of safety, while Ecuador noted some of these traditional products were already being exported outside the home-country market (e.g. to the US) without any ill-effects. Paraguay questioned how a natural sweetener, already evaluated by WHO/FAO, would be treated under this regulation.
In reply, the EU underlined that there are products within the loose and undefined category “products of biodiversity” for which genuine safety concerns exist. It recalled that the regulation applies to products marketed in the EU after 1997 and that its scope of application is not limited only to third countries, but primarily affects food producers operating in the EU market.
The EU said it welcomed examples of products already approved in other markets and for which negative development impacts might be felt, as they would be useful in the further elaboration of this regulation by the European Parliament and EU member states.
An animated debate took place in the committee's on-going discussion with over 20 members taking the floor to present their views on how work should progress on the topic of regionalization.
The key concept here is recognition that an exporting region is disease-free or pest-free (or has a lower incidence).
Unfortunately, the debate served principally to highlight members' continuing differences over a number of issues, particularly whether the SPS Committee should develop procedural guidelines, including agreed time limits, for the process of recognizing that areas are free of a disease, and whether work in the SPS Committee would duplicate that underway in the two standards-setting organizations with responsibilities in this area: the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The Secretariat was asked to update its background paper G/SPS/GEN/640 on the basis of inputs from Members.
Monitoring the use of international standards
The Committee agreed to renew the existing procedure for monitoring of the use of international standards. The current annual procedure will now be reviewed as part of the four-yearly review of the operation of the SPS Agreement. The Committee also adopted the 8th annual report on the use of the procedure.
Issues arising from the second review
Discussions on issues arising from the second review of the operation of the SPS Agreement continued at this meeting with a number of submissions tabled by members across a range of issues (transparency, undue delays, the relationships between the SPS Committee and the international standards settings bodies, use of ad hoc consultations). The chairperson agreed to revert to these at an informal meeting prior to the October committee meetings.
Tentatively, 11-13 October, with informals on 9-11 October.