SPS Concerns Addressed via Dispute Settlement

The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) deals with the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations. The aim of the SPS Agreement is to ensure that a country’s consumers are being supplied with food that is safe to eat. Safety is viewed in relation to standards the country considers appropriate, while at the same time, ensuring that strict health and safety regulations are not being used as a lame excuse for protecting domestic producers. The SPS Agreement allows countries to set their own standards with the proviso that the regulations must be based on science and do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where similar conditions prevail. Hilton Lambert has recognized that Africa has a particular concern as regards the unfair application of SPS measures to its exports of food products and that WTO dispute settlement may be an appropriate way to address this concern.

Recall that the South African Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry joined efforts with the local maize industry in 2007-2009 to prepare a draft Third Party submission for South Africa’s participation in the United States – Agricultural Subsidies case. This was South Africa’s first initiative at participative involvement WTO dispute settlement, and Hilton Lambert was involved in supporting the maize industry’s participation in the dispute. Despite the suspension of proceedings in the dispute before the WTO (i.e. Brazil and Canada have not proceeded with the case), valuable lessons have been learned and much needed capacity was built in the South African agricultural value chain in the area of agricultural in WTO dispute settlement. These lessons have a direct bearing on current SPS concerns being faced by the South African agricultural sector and the topic of sanitary and phytosanitary measures is of major importance to all stakeholders in the South African agricultural value chain. For this reason an intensive two day workshop, to deal with the treatment of sanitary and phytosanitary measures within the legal framework of the WTO, has been arranged with the purpose of increasing the knowledge and awareness within industry and the government of the potential of addressing SPS measures restricting exports, covering: the SPS Agreement; the WTO Committee on SPS issues; the WTO dispute settlement mechanism as it applies to SPS measures; the role of government; and the role of industry.