Under the [SPS Agreement], there are special accommodations made for developing countries, especially least developed countries. Where a SPS measure allows for phased introduction, longer time-frames for compliance should be accorded to products of interest to developing country members so that opportunities for their exports are maintained. Moreover, the Committee on SPS Measures is authorised to grant developing country members, upon request, specified, time-limited exceptions in whole or in part from obligations under the Agreement, taking into account their financial, trade and development needs. Where measures affect the importation or imported products from least developed countries, the application of the [SPS Agreement] can be delayed for five years from the entry into force of the agreement. Developing countries are accorded a similar reprieve of two years where the application of the agreement is prevented by a lack of technical expertise, technical infrastructure or resources. The transition period allows these countries to impose SPS measures of their own without the necessity of establishing a scientific justification for the measures. Under both the [SPS Agreement] and [Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement] (TBT), assistance is to be given to developing countries in the development of international standards and the preparation and application of technical regulations and standards.
The European Union's position on consumer health and the WTO seeks to improve the existing position by the following means: 1. to promote the introduction of international SPS standards and to enhance their credibility; 2. to ensure the participation of all interested parties, including consumers in the decision making process of establishing international food standards; and 3. to clarify and strengthen the existing WTO framework for the use of the precautionary principle in the area of food safety.
The EU is affected by the current [SPS Agreement], in the lack of clarity concerning the precautionary principle, which it wishes to see made more operational, so that scientific certainty is not a prerequisite for more protective measures. The beef hormone appellation body recognised the existence of the precautionary principle, but did not give it effect in the judgement. The non-applicability of the precautionary principle for SPS trade restraining measures allows for the importation of products which could have a damaging health impact. The acceptance of the precautionary principle will allow the EU to preserve high levels of health protection, without the need for scientific certainty. As a result, there would be a positive social impact. The restriction of imports would also have a positive economic effect in increasing producer incomes, but consumers may be worse off, if prices rise. There may be negative environmental effects linked to increased production, particularly of agricultural food products.
2. The application of the current [SPS Agreement] may disadvantage economically the developing and least developed countries which lack the technological and financial resources to comply with the technical SPS standards imposed by importing countries, or to mitigate an appeal process through the WTO disputes mechanism.
3. The economic impact is likely to be negative in so far as SPS measures act as a restraint to trade. The social impact is positive, in the enhanced level of health protection afforded by the SPS measures applied to imports.
4. There would be significant global gain from the higher level of health protection associated with imported food items which comply with international standards. Higher controls on production standards could result in a positive environmental gain.