The two agreements contain some common elements, including basic non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the establishment of information offices (“enquiry points”). However, many of the substantive rules are different. For example, both agreements encourage the use of international standards. However, under the SPS Agreement, the only justification for the non-application of these food safety and animal/plant health standards is scientific arguments arising from an assessment of potential health risks. On the other hand, under the TBT Agreement, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological issues or geographical factors. Although a number of developing countries have excellent food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary services, others do not. For them, the requirements of the SPS Convention pose a challenge to improving the health situation of their people, livestock and crops, which can be difficult for some to meet. Because of this difficulty, the SPS Agreement postponed all requirements, with the exception of transparency (notification and establishment of enquiry points), until 1997 for developing countries and until 2000 for least developed countries. This means that these countries are not required to provide a scientific justification of their sanitary or phytosanitary needs before that date. Countries that need longer lead times, e.B. for the improvement of their veterinary services or for the implementation of specific obligations under the Agreement, may request the SPS Committee to grant them further time limits.
Specific sanitary and phytosanitary requirements are most often applied on a bilateral basis between trading countries. Developing countries benefit from the SPS Agreement because it provides an international framework for sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements between countries, regardless of their political and economic strength or technological capacity. In the absence of such an agreement, developing countries could be disadvantaged if they challenge unjustified trade restrictions. In addition, under the SPS Agreement, governments must accept imported products that meet their safety requirements, whether these products are the result of simpler and less sophisticated methods or advanced technology. Enhanced technical assistance to support developing countries in the area of food safety and animal and plant health, either bilaterally or through international organizations, is also part of the SPS Agreement. Due to climatic differences, existing pests or diseases or food safety conditions, it is not always appropriate to impose the same sanitary and phytosanitary requirements on food, animal or plant products from different countries. As a result, sanitary and phytosanitary measures sometimes vary depending on the country of origin of the food, animal or plant product concerned. This is taken into account in the PLC agreement.
Governments should also recognize disease-free zones that may not respect political boundaries and adapt their needs accordingly to the products of those areas. However, the agreement addresses unjustified discrimination in the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, whether in favour of domestic producers or foreign suppliers. Under the SPS Agreement, the WTO imposes restrictions on Member States` food safety policies (bacterial contaminants, pesticides, inspection and labelling) and animal and plant health (phytosanitary) policies with respect to imported pests and diseases. There are 3 standards organizations that set standards on which WTO members should base their SPS methods. As provided for in Article 3, these are the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). In addition, sanitary and phytosanitary measures may be imposed only to the extent necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant health on the basis of scientific information. However, governments can introduce TBT regulations if necessary to achieve a range of objectives, such as. B national security or the prevention of deceptive practices. Since the commitments accepted by governments are different under the two agreements, it is important to know whether a measure is a sanitary or phytosanitary measure or a measure subject to the TBT Convention. In 2003, the US challenged a series of EU laws restricting the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a dispute known as EC-Biotech, arguing that they were “unjustifiable” and illegal under the SPS agreement. In May 2006, the WTO`s Dispute Settlement Body issued a complex decision that challenged some aspects of EU GMO rules, but rejected many of the claims made by the US. A summary of the decision can be found here.
Sanitary and phytosanitary measures can naturally lead to trade restrictions. All governments accept that certain trade restrictions may be necessary to ensure food safety and the protection of animal and plant health. However, governments are sometimes under pressure to go beyond what is necessary to protect health and use sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions to protect domestic producers from economic competition. This pressure is likely to increase as other trade barriers are removed as a result of the Uruguay Round agreements. A sanitary or phytosanitary restriction, which is not really necessary for health reasons, can be a very effective protectionist means and, because of its technical complexity, be a particularly misleading obstacle and difficult to complain about. Within the WTO, a Special Committee has been established as a forum for the exchange of information among member governments on all aspects related to the implementation of the SPS Agreement. The SPS Committee verifies compliance with the agreement, discusses issues with potential trade implications and maintains close cooperation with relevant technical organisations. In a trade dispute involving a sanitary or phytosanitary measure, the usual WTO dispute settlement procedures are applied and the advice of appropriate scientific experts may be sought. An agreement on how governments can apply measures in the area of food safety and animal and plant health (sanitary and phytosanitary measures or SPS) sets out the basic rules of the WTO. The SPS Agreement is closely linked to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which was signed in the same year and pursues similar objectives. The TBT emerged from the WTO Tokyo Round negotiations and was negotiated with the aim of ensuring non-discrimination in the adoption and implementation of technical regulations and standards.  This introduction deals with the text of the SPS Agreement as contained in the Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations signed in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.
This Agreement and other contents in the Final Act, as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as amended (GATT 1994), shall form part of the Treaty establishing the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The WTO replaced the GATT as the umbrella organization for international trade. In adopting the WTO Agreement, governments agreed to be bound by the rules of all multilateral trade agreements annexed thereto, including the SPS Agreement. In the event of a trade dispute, WTO dispute settlement procedures (click here for an introduction, click here for more details) encourage the governments concerned to find a mutually acceptable bilateral solution through formal consultations. If governments are unable to resolve their dispute, they can opt for one of the many methods of dispute resolution, including good offices, arbitration, mediation and arbitration. Alternatively, a government may request that an impartial panel of trade experts be established to hear all parties to the dispute and make recommendations. The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, also known as the SPS Agreement or SPS Only, is an international treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and entered into force with the establishment of the WTO in early 1995.  Overall, sanitary and phytosanitary measures covered by the Agreement are measures to protect human, animal or plant life or health from certain risks.  Measures to protect the environment (except in the cases defined above), to protect the interests of consumers or animal welfare are not covered by the SPS Convention.