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Sanitary and phytosanitary measures: formal meeting

The WTO committee dealing with food safety and animal and plant health heard a record number of specific trade concerns — 11 new, 12 old and one under “other business” — but was unable to agree on a mediation procedure designed to avoid legal disputes when it met on 16–17 October 2013.

The specific concerns covered a variety of import measures affecting trade in products from fruit and meat to seafood and swallows’ nests, with actions ranging from import bans and port closures to the use of testing laboratories and outsourced certification.

The WTO’s 159 members, meeting as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures committee, also heard that 35 measures are now resolved and 10 more are partly resolved either because some among a group of countries consider the issues to be resolved, or because some concerns among a broader set of issues has been settled.

These numbers emerged via a notification from the EU and information from the Secretariat, after the committee started to clean up a growing backlog of concerns that had been raised in the committee, without any recent follow up. The EU’s notification (G/SPS/GEN/1269) listed nine resolved cases it had originally raised but had only now reported settled, one dating back to May 1996.

The two-day meeting also heard the latest information from members on new laws and regulations (US and Canada), whey protein contamination (New Zealand), eliminating the use of methyl bromide, a fumigation pesticide now being phased out around the world because it damages ozone in the atmosphere (Indonesia,)and measures to deal with contaminated water at the Fukushima nuclear power station (Japan).

Delegates also heard that current negotiations on “trade facilitation”, a Doha Round issue being discussed in preparation for the Bali Ministerial Conference could affect SPS because among the topics discussed is importing countries requiring products to be inspected before they are exported. The Secretariat encouraged SPS experts in this committee to work with their colleagues negotiating trade facilitation — broadly streamlining procedures at ports and in customs.