The Report of the Fifth Review of the Operation and Implementation of the SPS Agreement (G/SPS/64 and G/SPS/64/Add.1) contains various recommendations on topics proposed by WTO members and provides an overview of the work undertaken by the SPS Committee during the period of the review, which spanned from 2014 to 2019.
Throughout the review process, members showed a high level of engagement, as evidenced by the number of submitted proposals (22 proposals submitted by 29 members, covering 10 different topics) and the robust discussions in Committee meetings and various thematic sessions and workshops organized on topics identified during the review. A summary of all submitted proposals and papers is included in the Report as well as in document G/SPS/GEN/1625/Rev.6.
At its June 2020 regular meeting, the Committee adopted the Report on an ad referendum basis. Since no written objections were raised by 31 July 2020, the text was adopted. Members also elected Mr Gregory MacDonald of Canada as the new chair of the SPS Committee.
Every four years, WTO members evaluate how they are applying the SPS Agreement. The Fifth Review process started in March 2018 and was driven by members’ proposals for new work by the Committee relating to specific topics.
Proposals and recommendations
Members underscore in the Report’s recommendations (G/SPS/64) the importance of science-based procedures for the implementation of the SPS Agreement, including the need for continued discussions on the topic of risk and management of situations involving insufficient scientific evidence. The recommendations also highlight the role of Codex Alimentarius, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) in sharing guidance on scientific uncertainty and on insufficiency of scientific evidence in the risk analysis process. In addition, the SPS Committee has agreed to reschedule a Workshop on Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Risk Communication, which was supposed to be held in June 2020 but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In relation to control, inspection and approval procedures (Annex C of the SPS Agreement), members agreed in the review to establish a new agenda item for formal meetings of the SPS Committee in order to facilitate further information sharing on this topic, and to create a working group to continue to examine approval procedures. Members are also encouraged to notify agreements reached on the recognition of equivalence, to continue related discussions and information exchanges – including on systems approaches – and to ensure coordination between SPS Committee representatives and their governments’ Codex, OIE and IPPC representatives.
Members have agreed to continue to exchange experiences on science-based regulatory approaches to fight fall armyworm, an invasive pest posing a threat to a variety of crops across the world, and to further discuss the concepts identified in the submission on Enabling Access to Tools and Technologies (G/SPS/W/317) on the same issue, including through the working group on approval procedures. Technical assistance has been identified as a means to support members’ efforts to improve their integrated pest management strategies and regulatory approach to pre-market approval and inspection systems.
In recognition of the role of national coordination mechanisms in improving SPS coordination and engagement at the national level and developing coordinated SPS positions, members are encouraged in the recommendations to implement appropriate mechanisms to enable consultation and communication between technical and trade policy experts. At members’ request, a collection of resources for members’ use in implementing their national coordination mechanisms will be prepared by the WTO Secretariat. In the area of notification procedures and transparency, members are encouraged to indicate in their SPS Committee notifications when a measure is notified to another committee, e.g. a regulation containing SPS and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) measures which is notified under both the SPS and TBT Agreements.
On the topic of maximum residue levels (MRLs) for plant protection products, members are encouraged to engage in national discussions related to enabling a more productive Codex MRL system. They are also urged to provide greater transparency and predictability on MRLs through notifications of proposed MRL changes and consideration of trading partners’ comments. Codex’s role in providing regular updates on its progress in the evaluation and periodic review of compounds is also recognized.
In addition, the recommendations invite members to assess their domestic regulatory approaches to pesticide registration and use, in relation to its impact on lower-risk alternative pesticides, and also to evaluate minor use needs and collaborate in global data-generation activities. The efforts of members and observer organizations are also welcomed in relation to providing regular updates on MRL-related activities, including on regional initiatives on MRLs.
Members underscore in the recommendations the importance of regionalization for safe trade in agricultural products. They are encouraged to respond to regionalization requests in a timely manner, without unnecessary requests for information.
Members welcome in the Report the active use of the existing Guidelines to Further the Practical Implementation of Article 6 (G/SPS/48) and further discussion on issues related to Article 6 of the SPS Agreement, including the Guidelines. Members also acknowledge the need for sharing experiences and information on a range of regionalization-related areas. These include the development and strengthening of regionalization frameworks as well as the procedures and processes for requesting recognition of pest- or disease-free areas and/or recognizing regional conditions. In addition, the recommendations highlight the work of the OIE and IPPC on regionalization, and welcome additional information and activities from these organizations to improve the understanding and implementation of OIE and IPPC standards.
In relation to the role of the Codex, OIE and the IPPC with respect to specific trade concerns (STCs), these organizations are invited to provide factual information on their standards, guidelines and recommendations in the SPS Committee meetings. In addition, SPS Committee representatives are encouraged to consult with their governments’ Codex, OIE and IPPC experts for advice on STCs.
On the topic of voluntary third-party assurance schemes, the Committee has agreed to reschedule the Thematic Session on Voluntary Third-Party Assurance, which was originally scheduled to be held in March 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work undertaken by the SPS Committee: 2014-2019
In the addendum to the Report (G/SPS/64/Add.1), members take stock of the body of work undertaken by the SPS Committee during the review period. An integral part of this work was the in-depth discussions on several topics (both new and previously discussed) that significantly impact health and trade. These discussions were held within the context of Committee meetings as well as thematic sessions and/or workshops organized to further members’ understanding and the Committee’s work in its consideration of related proposals submitted under the Fifth Review.
The Report highlights the Committee’s work on several procedural issues to enhance discussions in the Committee and to better support members’ internal coordination and participation in the Committee. Some examples include modification of the Committee’s agenda structure in order to improve the fluidity of Committee discussions and the preparation of a detailed agenda for Committee meetings (i.e. the circulation of an annotated agenda).
During the period of the review, several transparency-related initiatives were undertaken. These initiatives, such as the introduction of new online systems (ePing notification alert system and eAgenda) and the updating of existing ones (SPS Information Management System, SPS IMS; and SPS Notification Submission System, SPS NSS) are highlighted in the Report. In addition, detailed information is provided on the numerous technical assistance activities organized by the WTO Secretariat.
Structure of the Report
The Fifth Review Report is comprised of two sections: (i) Part A (G/SPS/64): Proposals submitted under the Fifth Review – this contains the list of the proposals submitted under the Fifth Review as well as information on the discussions and thematic sessions that have taken place on the various topics. This section also contains information on the areas identified for further work by the SPS Committee, including recommendations; and (ii) Part B (G/SPS/64/Add.1): Factual report – this provides an overview of the work undertaken by the Committee during the period of review (2014-2019).
The Fifth Review Report includes recommendations on the following topics: appropriate level of protection, risk assessment and science; control, inspection and approval procedures; equivalence; fall armyworm; national SPS coordination mechanisms; notification procedures and transparency; MRLs for plant protection products; regionalization; role of the Codex Alimentarius, the OIE and the IPPC with respect to specific trade concerns (STCs); and voluntary third-party assurance schemes.