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Image: International Markets & Trade

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) took effect with establishment of the World Trade Organization on January 1, 1995. The SPS Agreement concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations of member countries.

SPS measures include all relevant laws, decrees, regulations, requirements, and production methods that are designed to:

  • protect animal and plant life or health from risk arising from entry, establishment, or spread of pests or disease-causing organisms;
  • protect human and animal life or health from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins, or disease-causing organisms in food, beverage, or feed;
  • protect human life and health from risks arising from diseases carried by animals, plants, or products; or
  • prevent or limit damage from the entry, establishment, or spread of pests.

The SPS Agreement allows countries to set their own standards, as long as they are based on sound science and applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines, and recommendations where they exist, but members may apply higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as these standards are not applied arbitrarily or do not unjustifiably discriminate among countries where identical or similar conditions exist.

The SPS Agreement includes provisions on control, inspection, and approval procedures. Governments must provide advance notice to the WTO of new or altered SPS regulations, and establish a national enquiry point to provide information.

The additional market access provided by the tariff-cutting provisions in the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture and by the creation of tariff-rate quotas has shone a spotlight on other trade barriers, including SPS measures. In an effort to distinguish legitimate measures designed to protect human, animal, and plant life or health from measures that are unnecessarily trade-restrictive, the WTO periodically provides information on specific trade concerns raised in the Committee on SPS Measures. Many of these involve complaints of measures being more stringent than international recommendations. Some complaints involve imports being restricted based on health concerns, even though international organizations such as the Organization of International Epizootics and the World Health Organization have concluded that these imports posed no health risk. Other concerns include the absence of suitable risk assessment studies, lack of transparency about protective measures, and claims of higher standards for imports than for the domestic product.

While the SPS Agreement is not subject to negotiation in the Doha Development Agenda, implementation issues are being discussed. In particular, members have agreed to take concrete action to address issues and concerns raised by many developing-country members regarding the implementation of the SPS Agreement. This includes allowing developing countries a longer time-frame to comply with other countries' new SPS measures. The SPS Committee was instructed to expedite a program to implement equivalence, whereby members agree to accept the SPS measures of other countries when they deliver equivalent protection even if the measures differ from the member's own. The Doha Ministerial Declaration also instructs the SPS Committee to review the operation of the SPS Agreement at least once every 4 years.

Other Relevant Multilateral Agreements:

Last updated: Monday, June 04, 2012

For more information contact: John Wainio