WTO revision

More transparency in import of plant and animal products

Published: Wednesday 15 December 2004

the World Trade Organization (wto) has agreed to improve procedures for setting new health and safety standards on the import of plant and animal products. The revision adds emphasis on transparency. It aims to reduce arbitrary trade restrictions while allowing importing countries to protect the health of their consumers. The new rules, agreed at the November 5, 2004, meeting of the (wto) Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (sps) Measures, allows special and differential treatment for developing countries. Though the move is viewed as positive, industry experts are wary.

Developing nations can now seek more time to adapt to the new norms. The wto has recognised the fact that they have difficulty keeping up with the multitude of standards imposed by importing countries; some of them even more stringent than internationally accepted norms. The rules, thus, encourage developed nations to provide developing nations with technical assistance to facilitate compliance. In addition, countries imposing new standards now need to be more proactive in notifying exporting countries about them, to enable the latter challenge the new norms. This would be carried out through the wto secretariat, which would disseminate details of the new measures, including information on the countries and regions likely to be affected, to all its members.

Manab Majumdar, joint director of wto affairs at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, hails the new agreement. But he also emphasises that India must improve its own standards substantially to bring it at par with international norms. Officials at the Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, the government agency that links Indian producers with the global market, say it is too early to know how countries would respond to the new rules and whether developing countries would benefit.

sps measures are not just a tool of the rich; developing countries also apply them to their imports. India has complained of being the victim of restrictions to its exports but has also been criticised for it's own import policies. It could not export groundnuts to the eu because the latter reduced the maximum permissible level of aflatoxin significantly below the international standards. At the same time, following the outbreak of avian flu in poultry earlier this year, India banned all poultry imports, a move protested by the eu.

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