SPS and International Standard Setting Bodies

Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement:

SPS agreement regulates the conditions under which national regulatory authorities may set and enforce health and safety standards that directly or indirectly affect international trade. In particular, it applies to any measure applied
1. to protect consumers and animals from food and feed borne risks
2. to protect consumers, animals and plants from pest or disease related risks

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SPS agreement include all relevant laws, regulations, guidelines, production methods, testing, inspection, method of risk assessment, packaging and labelling requirement directly related to food safety.In case of food safety, the SPS agreement applies to risk deriving from additives, containing toxins or disease-causing organisms in food, beverage or feed stuffs. In order to determine whether a measure falls under the SPS agreement or under World Trade Organization (WTO)  disciplines such as the agreement on Technical Barriers to trade (TBT), or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the basic criteria is the purpose for which the measure is put in place.

Justification of measures:
While the WTO agreement recognizes the right of each member to adopt SPS measures for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, based on the level of risk each member deems appropriate, it tries to ensure that these measures are not used for protectionist purpose. It does so by imposing number of obligations. The measures can only be applied on the basis of following justifications.
1. SPS measures must be based on scientific principles and not be maintained without sufficient evidence.
2. SPS measures should be based on relevant international standard or on a specific assessment of the risk
3. SPS measures can be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life and health.
4. SPS measures should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail.

International standard setting bodies:

For protection of plant and animal health, following standard setting bodies are recognized internationally.
1. Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC): For food safety
2. International Office of Epizootics (OIE): For animal health and zoonosis
3. International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC): For plant health

For matters not covered by Codex, OIE or IPPC, the SPS committee may identify appropriate standards, guidelines and recommendations promulgated by other relevant international organizations. Members are not obliged to harmonize their SPS standards. International standards, guidelines and recommendations are by their very nature, non-binding norms. SPS agreement permits members to depart from international harmonization if they have legitimate reasons.

However, member countries can be benefitted in many ways when they harmonize SPS measures based on international standards. The evident benefits are
1. Trade is facilitated, since exporters will face uniform requirements in their export markets.
2. The likelihood of a measure being challenged by trading partners is substantially reduced
3. Member countries lacking the human and financial resources to carry out their own risk assessment will be able to refer to the authoritative science based work done by the relevant international standard setting body.

The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC):
The codex Alimentarius commission (CAC) is an intergovernmental body established in 1963, under the co-sponsorship of two United Nations (UN) organization; world health organization (WHO) and Food and agriculture organization (FAO). The CAC’s primary mission is to administer Joint FAO/WHO food standard programme with the aim of protecting health of consumers and promoting fair practices in food trade. The commission is charged with establishing food safety and agricultural trade standards, codes of practice and maximum limits for additives, contaminants, pesticide residues and veterinary drugs for the use of its member countries in drafting their own national regulations. There are two types of committees
1. General subject committee: such as the one for food labelling
2. Commodity committee: such as the one on milk and milk products

The technical work is carried out in cooperation with scientific bodies, such as
1. Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)
2. Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR)

The International Office of Epizootics (Office International des Epizootics – OIE):
The international office of Epizootics is an intergovernmental organization, established on 1924 in Paris. This organization is engaged in the prevention and control of the spread of animal diseases (zoonosis). Its mandate is to promote transparency and knowledge of the World’s animal health situation. It collects, analyze and disseminate veterinary scientific information, provide expertise and strengthen international cooperation and coordination. It develops standards and guidelines for use by its member countries to protect themselves against incursions of diseases or pathogens during trade in animals and animal products, while at the same time avoiding unjustified trade barriers. OIE standards are developed by internationally renowned scientific experts from member countries.

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC):
The international plant protection convention is a multilateral treaty which aims to secure common and effective action to prevent the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products and to promote appropriate measures for their control. IPCC is responsible for coordination of the work programme for the global harmonization of Phytosanitary measures. Implementation is ensured through a network of regional and national plant protection organizations.


United Nations (2005), Training Module on the WTO agreement on sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, New York, Geneva



About Author

Name : Pratiksha Shrestha


Ms. Shrestha holds masters degree in food engineering and bioprocess technology from Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Thailand. She is currently working for Government of Nepal at Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC), Kathmandu. She is also a teaching faculty in College of Applied food and Dairy Technology (CAFODAT) affiliated to Purbanchal university, Nepal.