Sanitary (human and animal health) and phytosanitary (plant health) measures apply to domestically produced food or local animal and plant diseases, as well as to products coming from other countries. … Sanitary and phytosanitary measures, by their very nature, may result in restrictions on trade.
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are quarantine and biosecurity measures which applied to protect human, animal or plant life or health from risks arising from the introduction, establishment and spread of pests and diseases and from risks arising from additives, toxins and contaminants in food and feed.
The SPS Agreement allows countries to introduce sanitary and phytosanitary measures which result in a higher level of protection than that which would be achieved by measures based on international standards, if there is a scientific justification or where a country determines on the basis of an assessment of risks.
There are 3 standards organizations who set standards that WTO members should base their SPS methodologies on. As provided for in Article 3, they are the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
Sanitary or phytosanitary measures include all relevant laws, decrees, regulations, requirements and procedures including, inter alia, end product criteria; processes and production methods; testing, inspection, certification and approval procedures; quarantine treatments including relevant requirements associated with the transport of animals or plants, or with the materials necessary for their survival during transport; provisions on relevant statistical methods, sampling procedures and methods of risk assessment; and packaging and labeling requirements directly related to food safety.
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; or to protect human life from plant- or animal-carried diseases (zoonoses); or to protect animal or plant life from pests, diseases or disease-causing organisms; or to prevent or limit other damage to a country from the entry, establishment or spread of pests. Included are measures taken to protect the health of fish and wild fauna as well as forests and wild flora.
Measures for environmental protection or to protect the welfare of animals are not covered by the SPS Agreement. However, this does not mean in any way that such measures are prohibited by GATT, but only that they are not considered as sanitary and phytosanitary measures subject to the rules of the SPS Agreement.
Yes, since 1948 national food safety, animal and plant health measures which affect trade were subject to GATT rules. Article I of the GATT (see note 1), the most-favoured nation clause, required non-discriminatory treatment of imported products from different foreign suppliers, and Article III required that such products be treated no less favourably than domestically produced goods with respect to any laws or requirements affecting their sale. These rules applied, for instance, to pesticide residue and food additive limits, as well as to restrictions for animal or plant health purposes.
The GATT rules also contained an exception (Article XX:b) which permitted countries to take measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health,” as long as these did not unjustifiably discriminate between countries where the same conditions prevailed, nor were a disguised restriction to trade. In other words, where necessary, for purposes of protecting human, animal or plant health, governments could impose more stringent requirements on imported products than they required of domestic goods.
In the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations (1974-79) an Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade was negotiated (the 1979 TBT Agreement or “Standards Code”) (see note 2). Although this agreement was not developed primarily for the purpose of regulating sanitary and phytosanitary measures, it covered technical requirements resulting from food safety and animal and plant health measures, including pesticide residue limits, inspection requirements and labelling. Governments which were members of the 1979 TBT Agreement agreed to use relevant international standards (such as those for food safety developed by the Codex) except when they considered that these standards would not adequately protect health. They also agreed to notify other governments, through the GATT Secretariat, of any technical regulations which were not based on international standards. The 1979 TBT Agreement included provisions for settling trade disputes arising from the use of food safety and other technical restrictions.
Yes, since 1948 national food safety and animal and plant health measures that affect trade have been subject to GATT rules. GATT’s Article I, the most-favoured nation clause, has always required non-discriminatory treatment of imported products from different foreign suppliers, and Article III has required that such products be treated no less favourably than domestically produced goods with respect to any laws or requirements affecting their sale. These rules apply, for instance, to limits for pesticide residues and food additives as well as to restrictions for animal or plant health purposes.
The current GATT rules also contain an exception (Article XX:b) that permits countries to take measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health” as long as these do not unjustifiably discriminate between countries where the same conditions prevail and are not a disguised restriction to trade. In other words, where necessary, for purposes of protecting human, animal or plant health, governments may impose more stringent requirements on imported products than on domestic goods. This exception would not change under the SPS Agreement.
In the previous round of GATT negotiations (the Tokyo Round, 1974-79) the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (often called the Standards Code) was negotiated.2 Although this agreement was not developed primarily for the purpose of regulating sanitary and phytosanitary measures, it does cover technical requirements resulting from food safety and animal and plant health measures, including pesticide residue limits, inspection requirements and labelling. Member governments have agreed to use relevant international standards (such as those for food safety developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission) except when they consider that these standards will not adequately protect health. They have also agreed to notify other governments, through the GATT secretariat, of any technical regulations that are not based on international standards. The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade includes provisions for settling trade disputes arising from the application of food safety measures and other technical restrictions.
Because sanitary and phytosanitary measures can so effectively restrict trade, GATT member governments were concerned about the need for clear rules regarding their use. The Uruguay Round objective to reduce other possible barriers to trade increased fears that sanitary and phytosanitary measures might be used for protectionist purposes.
The SPS Agreement was intended to close this potential loophole. It sets clearer, more detailed rights and obligations for food safety and animal and plant health measures which affect trade. Countries are permitted to impose only those requirements needed to protect health which are based on scientific principles. A government can challenge another country’s food safety or animal and plant health requirements on the grounds that they are not justified by scientific evidence. The procedures and decisions used by a country in assessing the risk to food safety or animal or plant health must be made available to other countries upon request. Governments have to be consistent in their decisions on what is safe food, and in responses to animal and plant health concerns.
At the same time, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has been strengthened. A revision of this agreement is also part of the WTO package and will apply to all WTO members. It will affect all technical regulations not explicitly covered by the SPS Agreement, including most labelling, packaging and product content requirements.
The SPS Agreement explicitly recognizes the right of governments to take measures to protect human, animal and plant health, as long as these are based on science, are necessary for the protection of health and do not unjustifiably discriminate among foreign sources of supply. Likewise, governments will continue to determine levels of food safety and animal and plant health in their countries. Neither WTO nor any other international body will do this.
The SPS Agreement does, however, encourage governments to harmonize their measures or to base them on the international standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by WTO member governments participating in other international bodies. These organizations include, for food safety, the Codex Alimentarius Commission; for animal health, the International Office of Epizootics; and for plant health, the International Plant Protection Convention. GATT member governments at present participate in the work done by these organizations, which bears on risk assessment and the scientific determination of the effects on human health of pesticides, contaminants or additives in food or the effects of pests and diseases on animal and plant health. The work of these technical organizations is subject to international scrutiny and review.
One problem with international standards is that they often set requirements so stringent that many countries find it difficult to implement them nationally. However, despite the encouragement to use international standards, they will not become a ceiling or floor on national standards. National standards can be higher than international norms without necessarily violating the SPS Agreement. In fact, the SPS Agreement explicitly permits governments to impose more stringent requirements than those based on international standards. However, governments that do not base their national requirements on relevant international standards may, if this difference gives rise to a trade dispute, be required to justify their higher standard.