Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) play a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing international trade while safeguarding the health of consumers, animals, and the environment. Read here to learn more.
In the intricate web of global trade, ensuring the safety of food, animals, and plants is paramount.
The World Trade Organization recently published Trade Policy Tools for Climate Action that looks into the trade policies that governments could consider as part of their strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
One of the policy tools is to ‘Protect economies from the spread of disease and pests exacerbated by climate change by strengthening sanitary and phytosanitary systems.’
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures refer to regulations and standards implemented by countries to protect human, animal, and plant life or health from risks arising from the introduction, establishment, or spread of pests and diseases.
- These measures are established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) under the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).
- These measures must be anchored in science, based on a risk assessment, and, where possible, follow the international standards, guidelines, and recommendations developed by Codex Alimentarius, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the International Plant Protection Convention.
Objectives of SPS Measures:
- Protection of Human Health: SPS measures aim to prevent the spread of diseases and contaminants in food products that may pose risks to human health. These measures include guidelines on food safety, microbiological standards, and maximum residue limits for pesticides.
- Animal Health: In animal health, SPS measures focus on preventing the introduction and spread of diseases among animals. This includes regulations on importing and exporting live animals, animal products, and by-products.
- Plant Health: For plant health, SPS measures are designed to regulate the movement of plants and plant products to prevent the introduction and spread of pests and diseases that could harm crops, forests, and ecosystems.
How can strengthening SPS systems help the world?
Climate change is increasingly affecting ecosystems and agricultural production across the world. Extreme weather events, droughts, and rising temperatures also affect the global prevalence of pests and diseases and contribute to increased food safety risks. Plant pests are estimated to be responsible for the loss of up to 40 percent of crop production.
As climate change deeply affects agricultural yields, trade will increasingly play a key role in global food security by helping food flow predictably and smoothly to areas in need of supply.
- At the same time, trade can also act as a transmitter of pests, diseases, and food safety risks to areas where they were previously unknown.
- Economies normally protect themselves against such risks by establishing SPS systems to regulate the import of agricultural goods.
- Given the effects of climate change increasing these challenges, it is likely that the ongoing growth in SPS measures adopted in recent years will not abate.
To protect people from new pest and disease risks linked to climate change, it is important to adopt strategies and policies that strengthen SPS systems. Direct investments towards such systems, not only to protect their own populations and agriculture sectors but to ensure agriculture exports can continue to reach markets where they are needed.
This is particularly relevant for vulnerable economies experiencing severe consequences of climate change and extreme weather events.
While SPS measures are crucial for protecting public health and the environment, their implementation poses several challenges:
- Technical Barriers: Developing and implementing SPS measures requires technical expertise and scientific knowledge. Many developing countries may face challenges in meeting these standards, leading to potential barriers to trade.
- Costs and Capacity Constraints: Complying with SPS measures often involves significant costs for infrastructure, training, and monitoring. Developing countries, in particular, may struggle with limited resources and capacity to meet these requirements.
- Information Asymmetry: Disparities in information and communication can hinder effective cooperation and understanding between exporting and importing countries. This can lead to misunderstandings about the necessity and implications of specific SPS measures.
Impact of SPS measures on International Trade
- Trade Facilitation: SPS measures, when implemented effectively, facilitate international trade by ensuring that products meet certain health and safety standards. This instills confidence among trading partners and consumers, promoting smoother cross-border transactions.
- Market Access: Compliance with SPS measures is often a prerequisite for market access. Countries that fail to meet these standards may face restrictions or bans on their products, limiting their participation in global markets.
- Economic Consequences: Non-compliance with SPS measures can have severe economic consequences, including loss of market share, decreased export revenues, and negative impacts on the livelihoods of those involved in agriculture and related industries.
- Consumer Confidence: SPS measures contribute to building and maintaining consumer confidence in the safety and quality of imported products. This is particularly important in industries like food and agriculture, where public health is a primary concern.
- Harmonization of Standards: Encouraging the harmonization of SPS standards can enhance consistency and reduce the complexity of complying with multiple sets of regulations. International organizations and forums should play a role in facilitating dialogue and agreement on common standards.
- Capacity Building: Providing support for capacity building in developing countries is essential. This includes technical assistance, training programs, and financial aid to help nations meet the necessary infrastructure and expertise requirements for effective SPS implementation.
- Transparency and Information Exchange: Improving transparency and promoting information exchange between trading partners can help reduce misunderstandings and facilitate cooperation. Effective communication about potential risks and preventive measures is key to fostering trust.
Trade Policy Tools for Climate Action
Trade Policy Tools for Climate Action, a publication by the WTO Secretariat, looks into the trade policies that governments could consider as part of their strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The publication covers ten policy areas where governments have introduced measures to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, improve the flow of climate-friendly goods and services, decarbonize supply chains, and build resilience to extreme weather events and climate change.
- Trade facilitation
- Government procurement
- Regulations and certification
- Import tariffs
- Trade finance
- Food and Agriculture
- Sanitary and phytosanitary measures
- Internal taxation and carbon pricing
Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures stand as a linchpin in the global trade system, balancing the need for open markets with the imperative to protect public health, animal welfare, and the environment.
Striking the right balance requires international cooperation, capacity building, and a commitment to harmonized standards.
As the world becomes more interconnected, the effective implementation of SPS measures becomes not just a regulatory necessity but a shared responsibility for a safer, healthier, and more sustainable global trading environment.
-Article by Swathi Satish