The transparency provisions of the SPS Convention are intended to ensure that measures to protect human, animal and plant health are made known to the interested public and trading partners. The agreement requires governments to publish all sanitary and phytosanitary regulations without delay and, at the request of another government, provide an explanation of the reasons for a particular food safety or animal or plant health requirement. The TBT Agreement aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards and testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary barriers. The agreement recognizes the right of countries to adopt such standards as they deem appropriate – for example, to protect the life or health of humans, animals or plants; environmental protection; or to meet other consumer interests. In any case, the rules applied by countries should not be discriminatory. According to the agreement, the procedures for deciding whether a product complies with the relevant standards must be fair and equitable, and all methods that would give an unfair advantage to domestically produced products are discouraged. • Inform members of mutual recognition events and agreements under the TBT Agreement. In the event of a dispute over SPS measures, the Panel may request scientific advice, including by convening a group of technical experts. If the panel finds that a country is in breach of its obligations under a WTO agreement, it generally recommends that the country bring its measure into conformity with its obligations. This could include, for example, procedural changes in the way a measure is applied, a modification or complete elimination of the measure, or simply the elimination of discriminatory elements.
Due to climatic differences, existing pests or diseases or food safety conditions, it is not always appropriate to impose the same sanitary and phytosanitary requirements on food, animal or plant products from different countries. As a result, sanitary and phytosanitary measures sometimes vary depending on the country of origin of the food, animal or plant product concerned. This is taken into account in the PLC agreement. Governments should also recognize disease-free zones that may not respect political boundaries and adapt their needs accordingly to the products of those areas. However, the agreement addresses unjustified discrimination in the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures, whether in favour of domestic producers or foreign suppliers. The WTO Secretariat has prepared this text to facilitate public understanding of the SPS Agreement. It is not intended to provide a legal interpretation of the Agreement. The two agreements contain some common elements, including basic non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the establishment of information offices (“enquiry points”). However, many of the substantive rules are different. For example, both agreements encourage the use of international standards. However, under the SPS Agreement, the only justification for the non-application of these food safety and animal/plant health standards is scientific arguments arising from an assessment of potential health risks.
On the other hand, under the TBT Agreement, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological issues or geographical factors. One of the provisions of the SPS Agreement is the obligation for members to facilitate the provision of technical assistance to developing countries, either through relevant international organizations or bilaterally. FAO, OIE and WHO have set up extensive programmes to support developing countries in food safety and animal and plant health. A number of countries also have extensive bilateral programmes with other WTO Members in these areas. The WTO Secretariat has organized a programme of regional seminars to provide developing countries (and countries of Central and Eastern Europe) with detailed information on their rights and obligations under this Agreement. These seminars will be organised in collaboration with Codex, the OIE and the IPPC to ensure that governments are aware of the role these organisations can play in helping countries meet their needs and reap the full benefits of the SPS Agreement. Interested private business associations and consumer organisations may participate in the seminars. The WTO Secretariat also provides technical assistance through national workshops and to governments through their representatives in Geneva. As part of the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations (1974-79), an agreement on technical barriers to trade was negotiated (1979 TBT Agreement or “Code of Standards”) (see note 2). .