International standards, Codex and a new SPS dispute in the making: EU US (Ractopamine)

Alberto Alemanno reports on some crucial developments in the development of international SPS standards. Prof Alemanno links to recent EU Agriculture Council conclusions which are a treasure trove of issues linked to the WTO’s room for domestic regulatory autonomy.

In brief, the FAO/WHO’s Codex Alimentarius Committee adopted limits for the use of ractopamine (a veterinary drug used to pimp pigs) which are more lenient than the EU’s (albeit stricter than those of the US). While the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards – SPS, encourages WTO Members to apply standards which conform with international standards, it also allows for recourse to the precautionary principle in the case of scientific uncertainty (Article 5.7).

The EU Ministers have decided to continue employing its own, stricter standard, and have instructed the European Commission to ensure that exporters to the EU that employ a weaker standard, set in place a parallel system for export to the EU (one which guarantees that the EU’s stricter standard is being abided by in export to the EU).

The EU’s resolve on this issue is firm. The likelihood of a challenge under the WTO Dispute Settlement very high. As Alberto points out, even in Beef Hormones, Article 5.7 was not employed. Before a WTO Panel would come to that, it would also have to assess the qualities of the relevant Codex decision as an international standard, given the slim majority with which it was adopted (which brings back memories of EC Sardines).

Risk management never fails to pop up on time for first term exam questions.


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