All countries are taking measures to ensure that food is safe for consumers and to prevent the spread of pests or diseases among animals and plants. These sanitary and phytosanitary measures can take many forms, . B such as the requirement that products come from a disease-free zone, product inspection, specific treatment or processing of products, setting maximum permitted levels of pesticide residues or the authorised use of certain additives only in food. Sanitary (human and animal health) and phytosanitary (plant health) measures apply to locally produced food or local animal and plant diseases, as well as products from other countries. The WTO Secretariat has prepared this text to facilitate public understanding of the SPS Agreement. It is not intended to provide a legal interpretation of the Agreement. Governments are required to inform other countries of any new or modified sanitary and phytosanitary requirements affecting trade and to establish offices (so-called “enquiry points”) to respond to requests for additional information on new or existing measures. They also need to be scrutinised for how they apply their rules on food safety and animal and plant health. The systematic exchange of information and the exchange of experiences among WTO member governments provides a better basis for national standards. This increased transparency also protects the interests of consumers and trading partners against hidden protectionism through unnecessary technical requirements.
The two agreements contain some common elements, including basic non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the establishment of information offices (“enquiry points”). However, many of the substantive rules are different. For example, both agreements encourage the use of international standards. However, under the SPS Agreement, the only justification for the non-application of these food safety and animal/plant health standards is scientific arguments arising from an assessment of potential health risks. On the other hand, under the TBT Agreement, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological issues or geographical factors. This includes sanitary and phytosanitary measures to protect the health of fish and wildlife, as well as forests and wildlife. Who benefits from the implementation of the SPS Agreement? Is the agreement in the interests of developing countries? The Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures builds on previous GATT rules to limit the use of unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary measures for trade protection. The fundamental objective of the SPS Agreement is to defend the sovereign right of each government to ensure the level of health protection it deems appropriate, but to ensure that these sovereign rights are not abused for protectionist purposes and do not lead to unnecessary obstacles to international trade.
Measures to protect the environment (except in the cases defined above), to protect the interests of consumers or animal welfare are not covered by the SPS Convention. However, these concerns are addressed by other WTO Agreements (i.e. the TBT Agreement or Article XX of the GATT 1994). The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the “SPS Agreement”) entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization on 1 January 1995. This concerns the application of the rules on food safety and animal and plant health. In the event of a dispute over SPS measures, the Panel may request scientific advice, including by convening a group of technical experts. If the panel finds that a country is in breach of its obligations under a WTO agreement, it generally recommends that the country bring its measure into conformity with its obligations. This could include, for example, procedural changes in the way a measure is applied, a modification or complete elimination of the measure, or simply the elimination of discriminatory elements. An agreement on how governments can apply measures in the area of food safety and animal and plant health (sanitary and phytosanitary measures or SPS) sets out the basic rules of the WTO. Specific sanitary and phytosanitary requirements are most often applied on a bilateral basis between trading countries.
Developing countries benefit from the SPS Agreement because it provides an international framework for sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements between countries, regardless of their political and economic strength or technological capacity. In the absence of such an agreement, developing countries could be disadvantaged if they challenge unjustified trade restrictions. In addition, under the SPS Agreement, governments must accept imported products that meet their safety requirements, whether these products are the result of simpler and less sophisticated methods or advanced technology. Enhanced technical assistance to support developing countries in the area of food safety and animal and plant health, either bilaterally or through international organizations, is also part of the SPS Agreement. This introduction deals with the text of the SPS Agreement as contained in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, signed in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994. This Agreement and other contents in the Final Act, as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as amended (GATT 1994), shall form part of the Treaty establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO replaced the GATT as the umbrella organization for international trade. Although a number of developing countries have excellent food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary services, others do not. For them, the requirements of the SPS Convention pose a challenge to improving the health situation of their people, livestock and crops, which can be difficult for some to meet. Because of this difficulty, the SPS Agreement postponed all requirements, with the exception of transparency (notification and establishment of enquiry points), until 1997 for developing countries and until 2000 for least developed countries. This means that these countries are not required to provide a scientific justification of their sanitary or phytosanitary needs before that date. Countries that need longer lead times,.
B for example to improve their veterinary services or to implement specific obligations under the Agreement, may request the SPS Committee to grant them further time limits. Importers of food and other agricultural products also benefit from greater security in terms of border measures. .