Five new trade concerns on food safety, animal and plant health were raised at a recent meeting of a World Trade Organization (WTO) committee.

The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures also discussed 12 previously raised issues at the meeting on Nov. 7 and 8.

The United States was one of four countries that raised a concern about EU Regulation 2016/2031 on high-risk plants, which could stop all existing trade for 36 new plant types on Dec. 14, 2019, unless a pest risk assessment (PRA) and agreed upon entry requirements have been completed.

Israel, Canada, and Kenya were other nations that stressed many of these products have been traded for years without problems and stopping imports on Dec. 14 will have an immediate adverse impact without clear or measurable improvement to the safety of European Union imports. They asked whether the EU considered provisional measures that would allow historically safe trade to continue while it seeks information for a more objective pest risk assessment.

The EU representative said it is increasing its level of protection after concluding the previous threshold was insufficient. The new system introduces the PRA which is a provisional measure as it will remain in place until a risk assessment is finalized. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has guidance on how to prepare export dossiers for these products.

Thailand and the Philippines respond to concerns
Four trade concerns were solved as Chinese Taipei resolved an issue first raised in March 2017, regarding Thailand’s import restriction on papaya seeds. Peru asked to remove a new trade concern on Colombia’s restrictions on coffee imports and a previous trade concern about the EU’s maximum level of cadmium in foodstuffs. China also withdrew one on EU measures on animal products.

Brazil and the EU raised concerns regarding Thailand’s approval steps for imports of pork and other animal products and what they considered unjustified and long delays. For the EU, applications from 11 member states are pending, some since 2011. Both countries noted Thailand treats every application separately but the approval process could be accelerated.

Thai officials said imports for livestock products are compliant with WTO rules and recommendations and market access procedures are based on risk analysis in conformity with SPS measures. It has recently approved EU imports of some pork, beef and poultry products, including processed animal proteins from swine, bovine, and poultry.

The EU also raised a concern regarding the Philippines’ restrictions on meat imports. The restrictions maintain scientifically unjustified country-wide bans on imports of meat products from EU member states due to an African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak. Measures apply to nine member states even though Germany has never had an outbreak and the Czech Republic has been free from ASF for more than 18 months.

An official from the Philippines said ASF is a highly contagious disease that has the capacity to rapidly spread, multiply and remain virulent for months, regardless of borders. As there is no effective vaccine or treatment, ASF disease can cause economic losses and affect food security.

Indonesia raised concern on Russian’s maximum levels for certain contaminants, such as 3-MCPD and glycidyl ester in vegetable oils, including palm oil products. As one of the largest producers of vegetable oils, with 43 million tons in 2018, Indonesia said the new maximum limit set by Russia will also affect other vegetable oil-producing countries.

Russian officials said its decision was due to the need to protect animal and human life and is consistent with WTO obligations and scientific evidence by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

Previously raised issues
Trade concerns previously brought up included maximum residue levels (MRLs) for several pesticides; legislation on endocrine disruptors; and a new definition of the fungicide folpet.

The EU also raised previously addressed issues, including U.S. import restrictions on apples and pears; Indonesia’s approval procedures for animal and plant products; and general concerns about import restrictions due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The fifth review of the operation and implementation of the SPS Agreement is set for completion in 2020. The next SPS Committee meeting is planned for March 19 and 20, 2020.

Meanwhile, 24 government officials participated in the WTO’s three-week advanced course on SPS Measures this past month.

They worked on individual action plans to address implementation and/or market access difficulties in their home countries. Participants included Bahamas, Belarus, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and Ukraine. Since starting in 2005, the course has trained 350 government officials from 124 developing countries.

Roberto Azevêdo, WTO Director-General, said agricultural trade is increasingly shaped by new technologies, a changing climate, and a growing population.

“Participants from around the world have taken home the tools they need to implement projects that improve sanitary and phytosanitary capacities in their countries. Some of these projects have improved the compliance capacity of domestic businesses, opening up new markets. Others have developed systems to strengthen consumer protection or plant and animal health,” he said.

“Trade is already an essential conduit to move agricultural products from food-surplus countries to food-deficient countries. This role is only set to grow. And yet, food safety risks, and animal and plant health concerns will not disappear. In fact, they are likely to increase with the emergence of new and stronger pests and diseases.

“Finding the right balance between members’ right to take SPS measures for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, and the need to avoid unnecessary obstacles to trade will only become more important.”

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