Quarantine law enforcement

Published: Saturday 15 May 2004

in the wake of criticism by some World Trade Organization (wto) members, India has deferred the implementation of a section of its Plant Quarantine Order (pqo), 2003, by two months. Sub-clause 22 of clause 3 of the pqo, which makes fumigation of all imported solid-wood packing materials mandatory, was to be enforced from April 2004. It will now come into effect from June 2004 in the case of all goods, except agricultural products for which the rule is already in operation from January 2004.

The pqo is meant to safeguard imports of material from the threat of invasive pests and weeds. But observers note that it will just as much become a science-based tool in the never-ending trade battles at the wto. The views of a senior official in India's Union ministry of agriculture (moa) stoke such fears. "Developed countries also use quarantine standards to facilitate their trade... Now India, too, is wising up. This order (pqo) gives us the ability to negotiate," remarks the official.

The pqo drew strong criticism at the wto's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee's 29th meeting in Geneva on March 17-18. The us, the eu, Canada, Chile and New Zealand complained about the lack of transparency in its implementation. They alleged that India was blocking the imports of many products because of its new measures, which were notified in the wto on March 4. These countries asserted that they didn't get enough time to comment on the order. India, for its part, argued that its regulations were based entirely on science and international standards. It added that the date for comments had been extended by two months, till May 4. In this regard, the moa official has also claimed that the move to delay pqo's implementation is aimed at giving more time to all countries to prepare for compliance.

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