Prior to 1870 there was little realization by national governments of the dangers inherent in a free exchange of the plants and plant products that are hosts to injurious plant pests. The Colorado potato beetle was responsible for the first legislation affecting the international movement of a plant product, after its introduction into Germany. Following eradication of the infestation, a decree was issued by the German government in 1875, forbidding the further importation of potatoes and potato sacks. In the same year France also imposed exclusion measures against the beetle.
About 1859 the grape fungus Phylloxera, a native of the eastern USA, was introduced into France through the medium of imported grapevine cuttings; during the following 20 years it spread throughout Europe. Within 25 years of its discovery in France it had destroyed nearly one third of the French vineyards. Similar shipments of vine cuttings from France about 1872 spread the Phylloxera to Australia, where legislation to suppress the infestation was passed in 1877. This act gave power to quarantine and even to eradicate vines and destroy vineyards. In France regulation relating to Phylloxera was proclaimed in 1878. The first international action in the field of plant quarantine was in 1881, when a conference held in Bern, Switzerland, drafted an agreement known as the Phylloxera Convention, preventing the introduction of the Phylloxera from the USA and restricting the movement of grapevines and grape products to prevent its further spread between European countries.
Other major landmarks in the development of plant quarantine were the International Convention for the Protection of Plants (1929) and the International Plant Protection Convention drafted in 1951. These both sought closer liaison between national plant quarantine services.
The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization on 1 January 1995. It concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations. The Uruguay Round Agreements relating to sanitary and phytosanitary standards and to technical barriers to trade developed a set of rules intended to impede the use of those standards as obstacles to trade.
While the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) represents a starting point in developing co-operation in technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures, much more remains to be achieved including issues relating to the establishment and acceptance of international standards, and internationally agreed mechanisms for assessing conformity with these standards. There should also be increased incentives for countries to adopt international standards. International standards do not exist for many products, and when they do, they are not always taken up leaving countries using (divergent) national standards that can restrict market access.
Environmental and health-related standards may affect exports by developing country companies to countries in which these standards have to be met. Some developing countries have already experienced export losses. Participation of developing countries in standard setting needs to be enhanced.
Despite improvements as a result of the introduction of the SPS Agreement, many developing countries continue to experience difficulties with sanitary and phytosanitary standards, limiting their ability to export.