Trade Capacity Building and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Control
Agricultural and food markets are far more globally integrated than they were a decade ago. But many developing countries find it difficult to compete in the international agricultural marketplace, and seek trade-related technical assistance, especially to help them understand and respond to both government- and consumer-driven requirements of foreign markets, including sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. SPS measures are meant to safeguard the health and safety of consumers, and to protect animals and plants from certain kinds of risks. An effective SPS regime can also spur economic growth and job creation by protecting agricultural resources and the environment, diversifying the agricultural economy, adding value to agricultural products, and expanding and strengthening the agricultural sector.
Unfortunately, developing countries have scant resources and few personnel in the public or private sectors familiar with SPS matters. In some cases, their food laws are outdated or they lack regulations to support food legislation. Nor do they have the regulatory means to control movement of goods and people across their borders, limiting their ability to curb the spread of pests and diseases affecting plants and animals. In addition, many developing countries have neither a mechanism for ensuring coordination between government agencies involved in human, animal, and plant-related standards, nor a common method for sharing information among themselves or with the public. Some have only one or two generalists to cover all SPS-related issues. This is especially burdensome when a country needs to assess the scientific justification that other countries offer for their SPS standards or needs to grasp how a new standard might affect their export prospects. Finally, many developing countries simply lack technical resources to equip and run standards organizations and laboratories.
Defining what a particular country’s SPS infrastructure, programs, staffing, and specific requirements should be is no simple matter, however. Requirements vary with each country’s agricultural orientation (e.g., plants, animals, processed agricultural products), level of economic development, knowledge of SPS issues, physical and institutional infrastructure, major trading partners, and the frequency with which standards are tightened or updated in product lines of interest. Generally, however, a country’s SPS regime must be able to do three things:
(1) Support domestic industry’s ability to meet SPS measures required by trading partners.
(2) Implement trade-related SPS obligations
(3) Participate in SPS-related trade discussions in international standard-setting organizations and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Producers must be aware of and able to meet the requirements of export markets. Some of these requirements are formal, set by governments, while others are informal, set by market actors, such as supermarket chains, in response to consumer demand. Meeting market requirements is a function both of producer capacity and the integrity of the SPS regime in the country of origin. Importing countries expect exporting countries to provide evidence that guarantees safe trade. Developing countries are responsible for implementing obligations outlined in WTO agreements. They must ensure that the standards they formulate and implement are consistent with obligations under the SPS Agreement; follow the principle of national treatment, which requires that SPS measures be applied to domestic food, plant, and animal sources just as they are to imports; and support measures that do not conform with an international norm with an appropriate risk assessment. Many developing countries lack the capacity to do any of these things. Furthermore, least developed countries often find it difficult even to comply with transparency obligations, and most developing countries find it difficult to assert their rights under the SPS Agreement.
Many developing countries lack sufficient funds as well as personnel to participate regularly in international meetings that address SPS issues, including meetings of the WTO’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards as well as meetings of international standard-setting organizations, such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Consequently, they may miss opportunities to become familiar with changes in SPS standards in key export markets or to influence deliberations. WTO needs to bring these issues as a core matter of discussion with requisite financial assistance provided to developing economies and LDCs.