Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (Agreement on the Application of)

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Agreement is linked to the Uruguay Round negotiations on the Agreement on Agriculture. The SPS Agreement:

  • Recognizes the sovereign right of Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to determine the level of health protection they deem appropriate.
  • Aims to ensure that a sanitary (human and animal health) or phytosanitary (plant health) requirement does not represent an unnecessary, arbitrary, scientifically unjustifiable, or disguised restriction on international trade.

The Agreement encourages the use of international standards to determine suitable measures and levels of protection, and explicitly recognizes the standards developed by the joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. A fundamental requirement of the Agreement is that Members must be able to demonstrate, on the basis of scientific evidence, that there is indeed a risk to health that justifies any trade measure not based on international standards.

The SPS Agreement has a much narrower application than the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement and is more directly related to health, covering only risks to human, animal or plant health through ingestion (in food, beverage or feedstuffs) or infection (from other animals, plants, pests or disease-causing organisms).

The precautionary principle is enshrined in the Agreement and it has been suggested that this could be applied to support measures to restrict the trade in genetically modified foods. The Codex Alimentarius Commission is also working to develop international standards for labeling of allergens in food or food ingredients obtained through biotechnology.

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