WTO Members advance work to identify, address challenges in implementing SPS Agreement

May 11, 2023

Members heard from the co-stewards — who play the role of neutral facilitators — of the five thematic groups established in the Work Programme. These groups are based on the themes outlined in paragraph 8 of the SPS Declaration adopted at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022.

The groups were mandated to regularly report to the Committee, with a view to ensuring all SPS delegates are informed of ongoing discussions through oral reports at intersessional consultations and written summaries/proposals for further discussion in the SPS Committee.

As in previous meetings, various stakeholders provided their views on emerging challenges and new opportunities facing international trade in food, animals and plants, including population growth, climate change, new technologies, and pest/disease pressures. Members welcomed the rich engagement in the group discussions, which served to reinforce and crystallize the concepts addressed over the past few months.

Members noted that hearing from different stakeholders provided a well-rounded perspective on the issues being examined and discussed the way forward for reporting to ministers at the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13), to be held in February 2024.

Members asked the WTO Secretariat to compile the co-stewards’ reports to create a factual summary of the Work Programme that will be circulated and discussed at the next informal SPS Committee meeting in July. In addition, members agreed that the Chair of the Committee, Tang-Kai Wang of Chinese Taipei, will start working in collaboration with the co-stewards on a shorter draft outcome document with some findings and recommendations emerging from the Work Programme that would be presented to ministers at MC13.

The Secretariat flagged the possibility to organize another intersessional meeting in the second half of September if necessary to advance on both documents.

Members were reminded that the WTO Secretariat created a dedicated, restricted webpage (wto.org/spsdeclaration) for members to track information on the thematic groups, including meeting times, links for the meetings, inputs provided by members for discussion, presentations from stakeholders and other documents relevant to the groups’ discussions.

Members also advanced the discussion on the functioning of the Council for Trade in Goods (CTG) and its subsidiary bodies with regard to WTO reform and COVID-19, based on a further revision of a document co-sponsored by Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

While highlighting that the SPS Committee was already applying most of the suggestions, the document indicates various challenges. These include the preparation, participation and proper follow-up in respect of meetings. It also refers to access to detailed knowledge of the regular work of the CTG and its subsidiary bodies and disparity in the formats and content of documents, deadlines and operational processes. In addition, it looks at identifying counterparts, accessing statements and following up on trade concerns and other relevant WTO documents.

Delegations acknowledged that the SPS Committee is one of the most efficient and proactive WTO committees. They noted that this proposal aims at starting a conversation with a bottom-up approach, which takes into account the singularities of each committee but also tries to harmonize practices as much as possible to facilitate the work of delegations. This is particularly relevant for small delegations with limited human resources to cope with the increasing number of formal and informal meetings, together with the amount of information generated on a wide variety of topics.

The Chair thanked members for their “constructive and engaged approach” and said he looks forward to continuing the discussions on the Work Programme launched by the MC12 SPS Declaration as well as the proposals to improve the functioning of the SPS Committee.