GLOBAL – In line with the sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) Agreement, a new World trade Organization (WTO) publication on easing trade bottlenecks has recommended that land-locked developing countries (LLDCs) should actively participate in the standard-setting processes under the Codex Alimentarius.

This is to ensure that WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards meet their needs.

The WTO SPS Agreement sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It aims to strike a balance between WTO members’ rights to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and their obligation not to restrict trade more than necessary.

SPS measures are technical in nature and countries are often unable to undertake their own risk assessments to establish an appropriate level of protection due to a lack of resources.

Implementation and fulfilling the requirements of importing countries can be equally costly especially when requirements differ across borders including “in transit” countries.

The SPS Agreement requires members to take measures only to the extent necessary for health protection, with scientific evidence required to demonstrate this “necessity”, except for emergency situations, in which temporary actions may be taken.

Under Article 3 of the SPS Agreement, the preferred way of meeting the scientific justification requirement is by using internationally developed food safety, animal and plant health protection standards, guidelines or recommendations, such as those adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Compliance challenges

The publication indicates maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides as one example where LLDCs have raised concerns, mostly regarding pesticide regulation measures, for products such as bananas, grapes, mangoes, oilseeds and rice, at the WTO.

Different maximum residue levels are sometimes applied in the import and transit market creating a particular compliance challenge for LLDCs.

Countries that participate actively in Codex can make a valuable contribution to the standard setting process including establishing pesticide MRLs.

“The Codex Alimentarius Commission, through the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues, provides a forum for Codex Members, both developed and developing countries, to discuss and harmonize maximum residue limits for pesticides in food and feed to protect public health and facilitate trade flow,” said Gracia Brisco from the Codex Secretariat.

The Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR) is responsible for establishing Codex Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) for pesticide residues in specific food items or in groups of food or feed that move in international trade.

Before a Codex MRL can be established human health, risk assessments must be conducted to ensure the food supply is safe. It is the responsibility of the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) to review the appropriate toxicology and data obtained mainly from supervised trials, that reflect approved pesticide use in accordance with “good agricultural practice.”

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