A record number of trade issues were raised at the latest World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting on safe food.

Delegates at the WTO Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures meeting in November addressed specific trade concerns relating to food safety and animal and plant health.

Countries raised 55 specific trade concerns, including seven for the first time in the committee. In July, 46 concerns were discussed, but only one was new.

New topics in the latest meeting addressed issues such as delays in import authorizations and publication of import requirements and restrictions due to possible radionuclide contamination, high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI), and pests. Products affected included seafood, citrus fruits, grapes, apples, pears, live poultry and poultry meat, and beef.

Chile mentioned undue delays by the United States in the publication of import requirements for table grapes and Argentina spoke about U.S. delays in the authorization of sweet citrus fruits.

Previously raised concerns covered pesticide tolerances and the environment, rules on veterinary medicinal products concerning antimicrobial resistance (AMR), approval procedures for animal and plant products, and import restrictions due to various diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), HPAI, and African swine fever (ASF).

Canada and the European Union raised China’s suspension of beef imports due to BSE again. Qatar’s import rules for dairy products, EU restrictions on exports of chocolate and cocoa products due to cadmium, and Chinese rules around listing and reinstatement of exporters were all covered once more.

United States comments related to China and Japan
In a statement at the meeting, the United States said it was “disappointed” that China had not published all requested new U.S. seafood and some existing dairy establishments in more than a year, despite repeated requests for these modifications.

“The U.S. remains disappointed that China has not relisted meat facilities awaiting action from China’s General Administration of Customs (GACC) before being able to resume shipments, nor has GACC outlined a process for relisting suspended facilities in general.”

The U.S. also raised concern about China’s testing for animal diseases in some products that pose no risk to human health. It was “frustrating” that some sites were being suspended after individual positives.

Japan shared information on the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water into the ocean and updated members on the safety of, and import restrictions on, Japanese food products following the nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011.

In August, China informed the WTO that it would suspend imports of all aquatic products from Japan. Hong Kong and Macao adopted similar measures in September. In October, Russia introduced a temporary restriction on imports of all aquatic products. Japanese officials appealed to other countries to remove these restrictions.

In another statement, the U.S. urged countries that had put in place restrictions to “immediately repeal their measures.”

“The U.S. agrees with the position of the IAEA and other international bodies and academia, after rigorous safety reviews, that the discharge of ALPS treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station does not pose a concern to public safety, and that the discharge will have a negligible impact on any concentrations of elements in international waters. Members’ implementation of prohibitive measures cannot be regarded as being based on scientific principles.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed a five-year agreement to support the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF).

$150,000 from USDA will help developing countries meet international food safety animal and plant health standards and facilitate safe trade.

María Pagán, ambassador and permanent representative to the WTO, said: “The United States continues to invest in technical assistance to support the implementation of the WTO SPS agreement. We recognize STDF’s important contributions in delivering programs and disseminating effective, transparent, and science-based results.”

STDF was created by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO), and WTO.

Non-compliance with international standards and requirements can lead to market rejections and economic losses for producers as well as food recalls and health risks for consumers. 

The next meeting of the SPS Committee is planned for March 20 to 22, 2024.

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