Health and plant health measures can, by their very nature, lead to trade restrictions. All governments accept that certain trade restrictions may be necessary to ensure food security and the protection of animal and plant health. However, there is sometimes pressure on governments to go beyond what is necessary to protect health and to use health and plant health restrictions to protect local producers from economic competition. This pressure is expected to increase as the Uruguay Round agreements remove new trade barriers. A health or plant health restriction, which is not really necessary for health reasons, can be a very effective protectionist device and, because of its technical complexity, constitute a particularly misleading and difficult obstacle. During the Tokyo Multilateral Trade Negotiations Round (1974-1979), an agreement on technical barriers to trade was negotiated (the 1979 tBT agreement or ”standardization code”) (see note 2). Although not originally designed to regulate sanitary and plant health measures, the agreement covered technical requirements arising from food safety and plant health and plant health measures, including pesticide residue limits, inspection requirements and labelling. Governments that were members of the 1979 OBT agreement agreed to apply relevant international standards (for example. B those developed by the Food Safety Code), unless they felt that these standards would not adequately protect health. They also agreed to inform other governments, through the GATT secretariat, of technical regulations that are not based on international standards. The 1979 TBT agreement contained provisions for the settlement of commercial disputes arising from the application of food security and other technical restrictions. Measures relating to environmental protection (with the exception of those mentioned above), consumer protection or animal welfare are not covered by the SPS agreement. However, these concerns are addressed by other WTO agreements (i.e.
the OBT agreement or Article XX of the 1994 GATT). In adopting the WTO agreement, governments have agreed to be bound by the rules of all multilateral trade agreements attached to it, including the SPS agreement. In the event of a trade dispute, WTOs dispute resolution procedures (click here for an introduction, click here for more details) encourage the governments concerned to find a mutually acceptable bilateral solution through formal consultations. If governments are unable to resolve their dispute, they may choose to follow one of the different ways of resolving disputes, including good offices, conciliation, mediation and arbitration. Another government may request the creation of an impartial body of trade experts to hear from all parties to the dispute and make recommendations. Within the WTO, a special committee has been set up as a forum for the exchange of information between Member State governments on all aspects of the implementation of the SPS agreement. The SPS Committee verifies compliance with the agreement, examines issues that may have an impact on trade, and maintains close cooperation with the technical organizations involved. In a trade dispute over a health or plant health measure, the usual WTO dispute resolution procedures are applied and opinions can be sought from appropriate scientific experts. Given the diversity of climatic conditions, pests or existing diseases or food safety conditions, it is not always appropriate to impose the same requirements on food, animal or plant products in different countries in terms of plant hygiene and protection.
As a result, sanitary and plant health measures sometimes vary depending on the country of origin of the food, animal or plant product concerned. This is taken into account in the SPS agreement. Governments