Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Geert Van Calster and Denise Prévost
Chapter 11: Scope of application of the SPS Agreement: a post-Biotech analysis
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement (SPS Agreement), which came into being with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, is one of several novel agreements that focus on non-tariff trade barriers posed by certain forms of domestic regulation. The SPS Agreement formed part of the Uruguay Round’s broader negotiations on agriculture and so at its heart is concerned with domestic measures that might restrict trade in agricultural goods, such as overly restrictive quarantine or food safety laws. However, what may be considered a sanitary or phytosanitary (SPS) measure is potentially much broader given the ‘deeply ambiguous’ definition of SPS measures in Annex A.1 of the SPS Agreement. This potential was realized in the WTO dispute of Biotech, in which a WTO panel gave an exceptionally expansive reading to the notion of SPS measures in its consideration of the application of the SPS Agreement to European Union (EU) regulations for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
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