Wednesday, April 16, 2014

World trade talks stall

World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations over Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issue have stalled because a committee failed to reach an agreement over a definition for private standards for food safety and animal and plant health.

Canada made a proposal for using private-sector standards that are recognized by international organizations if and when there's no agreement on accepting national standards. The negotiators have agreed to look into that proposal.

The committee also deferred deciding on a mediation procedure designed to avoid legal disputes.

Both issues have been discussed for several years in the SPS Committee and countries working on compromises thought they had a deal.

The committee has representatives from all 159 WTO members. It monitors how countries are applying the WTO SPS Agreement, which deals with food safety and animal and plant health, and discusses issues arising from these rules and from individual countries’ measures.

SPS-based trading bans have become more important every year as more countries use them to protect their domestic farmers and food companies. For example, Russia and China have blocked meat exports from the United States over issues such as plant inspections, the use of ractopamine as a growth promotant and Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus.

However, the failure to agree on a definition of what constitutes private-sector standards aroused concerns from some members — some new, some repeated — about each other’s measures involving meat, animal products and live animals, shrimps, and other products, with African swine fever joining diseases that are more regularly on the agenda such as mad cow (BSE) and foot-and-mouth diseases.

They shared information with each other about their regulations or SPS administrations. There were particular concerns from the US, Canada, Pakistan and Burundi, from Japan about radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power station, and from the EU on an outbreak of African swine fever in wild pigs.

Nine specific trade concerns were withdrawn from the agenda or announced as resolved in the meeting.

Three years after members agreed to try to define private SPS standards, such as those of supermarket chains, the WTO members remain deadlocked.

They have now agreed to look at how other international bodies define private standards, and see how these might be adapted to food safety and animal and plant health.

The Secretariat will compile the information for the next meeting in July.