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World Trade Organization-Sanitary and Pyhtosanitary Coordination
To facilitate the strengthening of SPS capacity to improve compliance under the WTO-SPS agreements
1. Monitor and analyze WTO-SPS notifications
2. Facilitate and establish stakeholder platforms and institutional support with the WTO-SPS notifications for SA and its trading partners
3. Develop and maintain a SPS notification database
Sanitary and phytosanitary matters
SPS Agreement: An overview
Problem: How do you ensure that your country’s consumers are supplied with food that is safe to eat — “safe” at the level you consider appropriate? And at the same time, how can you ensure that unnecessary health and safety regulations are not used as an excuse to protect domestic producers from foreign competition? The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (“the SPS Agreement”) sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health requirements. It allows countries to set their own standards. However, it also specifies that regulations must be based on scientific findings and should be applied only to the extent that they are necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health; they should not unjustifiably discriminate between countries where similar conditions exist. WTO member countries are encouraged to use the standards developed by the relevant international bodies whenever they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher levels of health protection, so long as their measures are based on an appropriate assessment of risks and the approach is consistent, not arbitrary. The agreement sets out a framework for what countries can do, but is not prescriptive in how countries use health standards and methods of inspecting products.
All WTO Member countries are signatories to the SPS Agreement, under which they have both rights and obligations. The SPS Agreement provides WTO Member countries with the right to use SPS measures to protect human, animal and plant life or health. Each WTO Member country is entitled to maintain a level of protection it considers appropriate to protect life or health within its territory. This is called the appropriate level of protection (ALOP
The SPS Agreement applies to all SPS measures which may directly or indirectly affect international trade. The right to adopt SPS measures is accompanied by obligations aimed at minimizing negative impacts of SPS measures on international trade. The basic obligations are that SPS measures must:
- be applied only to the extent necessary to protect life or health and not be more trade restrictive than required
- be based on scientific principles and not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence, and
- not constitute arbitrary or unjustifiable treatment or a disguised restriction on trade.
The SPS Agreement contains 14 articles covering various human, animal and plant health considerations that arise from international trade, including, inter alia:
- the use of international standards (harmonisation)
- risk assessment
- technical assistance for developing countries
- dispute settlement
Overview of SPS measures
What are sanitary and phytosanitary measures? Does the SPS Agreement cover a country’s measures to protect the environment, its consumer interests and animal welfare?
“Sanitary” refers to human and animal health, including food safety, and “phytosanitary” means plant health. For the purposes of the SPS Agreement, sanitary and phytosanitary measures are de?ned as any measures applied:
- To protect human or animal life from risks arising from additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in their food or beverages;
- To protect human life from plant- or animal carried diseases (known as “zoonoses”);
- To protect animal or plant life from pests, diseases, or disease-causing organisms;
- To prevent or limit other damage to a country from the entry, establishment or spread of pests.
Sanitary and phytosanitary measures include measures taken to protect the health of ?sh, forests and wildlife, as well as farmed animals and plants.
International standard setting bodies
The SPS Agreement encourages WTO Member countries to harmonize their measures by basing SPS measures on agreed international standards. These international standards are set by organisations known as the 'three sisters'. The 'three sisters' develop international standards, recommendations and guidelines for plant and animal health and food safety. They are:
South Africa’s SPS contact point
Current institutional arrangements within DAFF have designated the Directorate: International Trade as the official NNA and NEP in terms of the WTO-SPS Agreement. In this regard the combined SPS Contact Point currently facilitates the following:
- Distributes SPS notifications to interested stakeholders within South Africa;
- Central office for receiving notifications from competent authorities and submitting notifications to the WTO for publication on their website;
- Receives comments on notification/s made from WTO-SPS Secretariat as submitted by WTO Members and forward them to competent authorities;
- Requests further details on other countries SPS notifications received;
- Coordinates South African comments on other WTO Member countries SPS notifications; and
- Maintain communication with WTO-SPS Secretariat and SA representatives at the WTO
Contact details for submission of WTO-SPS notifications, comments, and information requests should be forwarded to the SPS contact point:
Mr. Jeremiah Manyuwa
Directorate: Food Import and Export Standards
Sub directorate: Sanitary and Phytosanitary Coordination
Tel: +27 12 319 6095
Fax: +27 12 319 6325
This arrangement will continue until adequate technical capacity and resources become available within the Directorate: Food Import and Export Standards (DFIES).
The WTO provides a dispute settlement system to ensure that Member countries meet their obligations. WTO Member can challenge SPS measure applied by other WTO Member on the grounds that such measure does not comply with the provisions of the SPS Agreement.
WTO SPS Committee
The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Committee) oversees the implementation of the SPS Agreement and provides a forum for discussion of animal and plant health and food safety measures affecting trade.
The SPS Committee meets three times a year at the WTO headquarters in Geneva. It provides a forum for all WTO Member countries to discuss the implementation of the SPS Agreement, including sharing their experiences, raising concerns about other Member countries activities and developing further guidance on implementing the SPS Agreement. It carries out the functions necessary to implement the provisions of the SPS Agreement and the furtherance of its objectives, in particular with respect to harmonization. The Committee reach its decisions by consensus. South Africa plays an active role in the SPS Committee by ensuring active participation.
National SPS Committee
The National SPS Committee serve as a national focal point and platform to co-ordinate and address SPS and associated TBT related issues in the interest of protecting the life and health of humans, animals and plants, and facilitating safe trade of agricultural, forestry and fisheries products. In addition, in terms of the SPS Annex of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Trade, SADC has established a regional Sanitary and Phytosanitary Coordinating Committee. As it comprises representatives of National Committees on SPS measures, all Member States are obliged to set up a National SPS Committee, which shall include the national enquiry point/s, and shall appoint a representative to link into the SADC SPS forum.
The aim of such a national SPS committee is to provide a platform for identifying and considering SPS matters, addressing trade-related SPS issues and enhancing national implementation of the WTO SPS Agreement and promote SA’s regulatory ability.
Because of the close relationship between the WTO TBT Agreement and the WTO SPS Agreement, it is deemed beneficial to have one national committee to coordinate both spheres of these regulatory activities that constitute non-tariff barriers to trade in agricultural, forestry and fisheries commodities.
The Committee provides a platform for:
a) Enhancing national implementation and utilization of the WTO SPS Agreement and appropriate facets of the TBT Agreement to improve South Africa’s credibility for handling of SPS matters with members of the WTO;
b) Identifying, coordinating and considering SPS and associated TBT matters, as appropriate, among inter- and intra departmental role players, stakeholders and national agencies to address crosscutting SPS and associated TBT matters in the spheres of food safety, animal health and plant health, in relation to the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sector;
c) Consultation regarding the formulation of national positions on issues tabled on the agenda for meetings of the WTO SPS Committee, the various Codex committees (including the Codex Alimentarius Commission), the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the World Organisation for Animal Health/ International Office of Epizootics (OIE), and other international and regional fora on food safety and human, animal and plant health;
d) Advising on representation at national, regional and international SPS meetings and capacity-building opportunities;
e) Coordination and consideration of technical assistance and cooperation;
f) Maintaining the prescribed linkage with the SADC SPS Coordinating Committee;
g) Advising on the feasibility and content of bilateral, multilateral and plurilateral SPS Agreements;
h) Coordination and feedback on substantive issues emanating from SPS and TBT developments at an international and/ or regional level;
i) Consultation and feedback on WTO-SPS and TBT notifications (incoming/outgoing) likely to affect South African trade; and
j) Consultation and co-ordination of positions regarding SPS and TBT in trade negotiations.