The United States was involved in four of five issues raised at a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting earlier this month.
The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures meeting on Nov. 1-2 covered five new specific trade concerns (STCs) and proposals as part of a review of the SPS Agreement.
New issues included pesticide levels, a European Court of Justice decision, Vietnam’s livestock law, Thailand’s import fees and a bluetongue outbreak – the latter being the only one that did not involve the U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the WTO earlier this year in an interview with Bloomberg.
SPS measures are adopted by governments to ensure food is safe and to prevent the spread of diseases among animals and plants. The SPS Agreement aims to ensure the measures protect humans, animals and plants while avoiding barriers to trade.
Colombia and India raised concerns on the European Union policy on maximum residue levels (MRLs) of the following pesticides: buprofezin, diflubenzuron, ethoxysulfurom, ioxynil, molinate, picoxystrobin and tepraloxydim. They said the EU has based measures on a hazard approach and a precautionary stance without considering the scientific evidence, which is not conclusive on genotoxic quality of these substances.
The U.S. and 13 others – Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Panama, Paraguay, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and Turkey – complained there is insufficient time to adjust to the new EU regulation.
The EU said the proposed lowering of MRLs is necessary to protect consumers as information indicates the pesticides can be carcinogenic, for which a genotoxic mechanism cannot be excluded so no threshold for acceptable exposures can be assumed. Draft legal acts lowering the MRLs generally apply six months after the date of entry into force, allowing member states, third countries and food businesses to put in place measures to meet new requirements.
U.S officials raised concerns about a new Livestock Production Law which the Vietnamese National Assembly may debate and vote on this month. A provision of the law relates to an import ban on livestock products obtained by using chemicals prohibited for domestic production in Vietnam.
According to the U.S., this law would not allow use of Codex MRLs for imported goods. Canada and Paraguay shared the concerns. Vietnam responded that it was still reviewing the draft regulation with comments from other members being considered before the text undergoes the final ratification process.
The U.S. representative also took issue with Thailand’s import fees on approval procedures for uncooked meat, poultry and meat offal. The U.S. said these fees, which have the same objective of preventing spread of animal diseases as domestic slaughtering fees for the same products, are higher than the domestic fees and appear disproportionate to the cost of service.
Thailand said the fees account for the domestic operational costs related to testing, which are necessary to guarantee the protection of local consumers. It added the costs assumed by national producers at various stages in the process are higher than the total fees charged.
Finally for the U.S., was an EU Court of Justice opinion on organisms obtained by mutagenesis, which is the process of inducing mutations. These organisms would be subject to risk assessment and review requirements, labelling and monitoring as well as traceability laws the EU applies to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
U.S. officials said implementation of this ruling will place unjustified barriers to trade on products of genome editing. Argentina and Paraguay also expressed this concern. The EU said the ruling had clarified the GMO regulation applied to organisms obtained through new mutagenesis techniques.
The other issue saw the EU raise concerns about the Russian Federation’s import restrictions on susceptible live ruminants and their genetic materials following an outbreak of bluetongue in Europe. This disease does not affect humans.
The EU said these measures are not in line with recommendations that export of such items from areas affected by the disease should be allowed under conditions, such as vaccination, laboratory testing or protection of animals in vector-protected establishments. Russia said the Ministry of Agriculture is reviewing domestic legislation and called for members to enhance activities aimed at preventing spread of blue tongue in Europe.
STCs previously raised included five EU SPS-related policies: categorization of compounds as endocrine disruptors, the maximum level of cadmium in foodstuffs, the veterinary medicinal products legislation review, EU Commission decision 202/994/EC on animal products and the new definition of fungicide folpet.
Attendees also heard again on issues such as Guatemala’s restrictions on egg products, China’s planned amendments to regulations on safety assessment of agricultural GMOs, the Russian Federation’s import restrictions on processed fishery items from Estonia and certain animal products from Germany and Brazil’s measures on shrimp.
The fifth review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement, set for completion in 2020, was also discussed.
Proposals included promotion of science-based procedures for implementation of the SPS Agreement, including those for situations where scientific evidence was insufficient, the role of the three standard setting bodies (Codex, IPPC and OIE) in addressing STCs in the committee, and third-party assurance schemes and development of guidelines for implementation of Article 13 of the SPS Agreement.
The next meeting is scheduled for the week of March 18, 2019.
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