The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (`the SPS Agreement`) entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organisation on 1 January 1995. It concerns the application of food safety as well as rules on animal and plant health. 2. Sanitary or phytosanitary measures conforming to international standards, guidelines or recommendations shall be considered necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health and shall be considered compatible with the relevant provisions of this Convention and GATT 1994. The GATT rules also contained an exception (Article XX:b) allowing countries to take measures « necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health », as long as they did not unfairly discriminate against countries where the same conditions were at stake and did not follow a disguised trade restriction. In other words, if necessary to protect human, animal or plant health, governments could impose stricter requirements on imported products than they required on domestic products. While a number of developing countries have excellent food safety and veterinary and phytosanitary services, others do not. For them, the requirements of the SPS Convention pose a challenge to improving the health situation of their population, livestock and crops, which can be difficult for some to meet. Because of these difficulties, the SPS Agreement delayed all requirements, with the exception of transparency (notification and establishment of contact points), until 1997 for developing countries and until 2000 for least developed countries. This means that these countries are not required to scientifically justify their sanitary or phytosanitary requirements before that date. Countries that need longer periods, for example to improve their veterinary services or to implement specific obligations under the Agreement, may request the SPS Committee to grant them further delays. Yes, since 1948, national measures on food safety, animal and plant health affecting trade have been subject to GATT rules. Article I of the GATT (see footnote 1), a most-favoured-nation clause, required non-discriminatory treatment of products imported from different foreign suppliers, and Article III required that such products not be treated less favourably than domestically produced products with respect to any laws or requirements relating to their sale.
These rules applied, for example, to limits on pesticide residues and food additives, as well as to animal or plant health restrictions. With the adoption of the WTO agreement, governments agreed to be bound by the rules of all related multilateral trade agreements, including the SPS Agreement. In the event of a trade dispute, WTO dispute settlement 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. . . .