Almost half of the new trade issues discussed in a WTO committee in 2020 mentioned food safety, according to a report on the meeting.

Of the 36 new specific trade concerns (STCs) raised in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee, 16 referred to food safety measures.

More than a third were due to other areas, such as certification, inspection and approval procedures. Those remaining referred to plant and animal health. The 36 STCs is the most since 2003. An additional 17 previously raised STCs were also debated.

New STCs on food safety included modified European Union MRLs for some plant protection products; import restrictions on chocolate and cocoa because of levels of cadmium; Saudi Arabia’s suspension of Brazilian poultry plants; and Costa Rica’s import restrictions on dairy products. Others were China’s actions related to COVID-19 and the Philippines’ ban on poultry imports because of coronavirus.

The SPS Agreement aims to minimize restrictions on international trade while allowing WTO members’ health protection measures in food safety, animal and plant health.

Notifications continue to increase
In total, 63 members submitted at least one SPS notification and 14 raised at least one STC in the SPS Committee making a total of 2,122 notifications, which is an all-time high.

Countries reported 35 STCs as resolved and 42 as partially resolved in 2020. Since 1995, more than 230 remain unresolved. The average number of times STCs on food safety and animal health have been raised is almost three.

More than two-thirds of regular notifications were about food safety and 84 percent of emergency ones related to animal health.

Between February and December 2020, countries submitted 55 notifications and 11 communications on SPS COVID-19 related measures as well as two COVID-19 related STCs.

In the early stages of the pandemic, a few emergency measures imposed restrictions on the import, and sometimes transit, of live animals and animal products, or certain species. While a few other bans came at a later stage, most have been lifted. Many notices involved acceptance of electronic copies or scanned certificates.

Developing countries submitted more SPS notifications than developed countries. Brazil raised the largest share of these this past year with 23 percent. The next highest was Japan at 8 percent.

At a meeting this July, members raised 47 specific trade concerns, nine of them for the first time. Discussions addressed topics including restrictions and approval procedures for imports of animal and plant products, pesticide policies and maximum residue levels (MRLs). The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4 and 5.

Also in July, the WTO held a virtual workshop on risk assessment, risk management and risk communication for food safety, animal and plant health with 1,000 registered participants.

Projects in developing countries
Finally, WTO has published the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) annual report.

The STDF, established by the United Nations’ FAO, OIE, the World Bank, WHO and the WTO, supports developing countries to build capacity to implement international sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director-General, said the STDF enables small-scale farmers to meet international health and safety standards.

“This opens the door to new markets and means higher incomes and more jobs and economic opportunities, particularly for women. It means safer food, lower trade times and costs, and greater capacity to protect plant and animal health capacity.”

The report has insights into STDF-supported projects, such as pesticide residue mitigation in Asia during COVID-19; piloting new models for food safety standards in West Africa and Central America; and harmonizing regulations and integrating pesticide strategies in Southern Africa.

Country-specific work highlighted includes enhancing trade for cocoa farmers in Papua New Guinea; improving SPS capacity in the Penja pepper value chain in Cameroon; streamlining inspection, control, and surveillance of food of animal origin in Costa Rica; and safety of smoked fish in Mali.

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