The two agreements have a number of common elements, including fundamental non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the creation of information offices (“Information Points”). However, many of the substantive rules are different. Thus, both agreements promote the application of international standards. However, under the SPS agreement, the only justifications for non-application of these standards for food safety and protection of animal/vegetable health are scientific arguments arising from an assessment of potential health risks. On the other hand, under the OBT agreement, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological problems or geographical factors. While the SPS agreement allows governments to maintain adequate health and plant health protection, it reduces the potential arbitrariness of decisions and promotes consistent decision-making. It requires that sanitary and plant health measures be applied for purposes other than ensuring food security and animal and plant health. In particular, the agreement clarifies the factors to be taken into account when assessing risk risk. Measures to ensure food security and the protection of animal and plant health should, where possible, be based on the analysis and evaluation of objective and accurate scientific data. The WTO secretariat has prepared this text to promote public understanding of the SPS agreement.
There are no plans to provide for a legal interpretation of the agreement. All governments of WTO member states must have an investigative body, an office to counter and respond to requests for information on the health and plant health measures of these countries. These requests may be copies of new or existing regulations, information on relevant agreements between two countries, or information on risk assessment decisions. The addresses of the application points can be found here. The agreement also contains a code of conduct for governments and non-governmental or industrial authorities to prepare, adopt and implement voluntary standards. The code, which is enforced by more than 200 standards bodies, states that the procedures used to determine whether a product meets applicable standards must be fair. The agreement also encourages countries to recognize the other party`s procedures in order to determine whether a product is compliant. Without recognition, products may need to be tested twice, first by the exporting country and then by the importing country.
The SPS Committee, created by the SPS Agreement to ensure compliance with its implementation, has reviewed the operation and implementation of the agreement three times since it came into force in 1995 (`). Many governments have enshrined the main obligations of the SPS agreement in their national rules. They first consider whether the application of one of the relevant international standards2 could provide the level of health protection that the country deems appropriate and, if not, base their application on an assessment of the health risks associated with the trade in the product.