Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS)
Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) measures are non-tariff barriers and are the basic rules for plant and animal health, and food standards and take several forms - the requirement for products to come from disease free areas, inspection of products, and maximum residue limits. A key function of the WTO is to facilitate trade between countries, removing the opportunities for discrimination, and levelling the playing field. However countries are permitted to set the standards that they deem necessary to protect human, animal or plant health, provided they apply these rules consistently.
Where possible, member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where these exist, but ultimately a country can set whichever standards they choose provided these are evidence-backed, and not simply arbitrary routes to inhibit trade and disputes.
The EU has relatively high food safety standards – often higher than typical international standards – but is experienced at defending these standards. BSE is an example of how the EU legitimately imposed restrictions on imports based on concerns about human or animal health (following BSE beef was banned in the EU, this was then reduced to a ban on exports of beef on the bone, and ultimately the ban was lifted entirely). It’s also an example of the type of disputes that can arise – France was the last country to lift its ban long after the UK argued strongly that there was no demonstrable risk, and that the continuation of the ban was unreasonable and perpetuated for the benefit of French beef producers.
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