Specific sanitary and phytosanitary requirements are most frequently applied on a bilateral basis between trading countries. Developing countries benefit from the SPS Convention because it provides an international framework for sanitary and phytosanitary agreements between countries, regardless of their political and economic strength or technological capacity. In the absence of such an agreement, developing countries could be disadvantaged if they challenge unjustified trade restrictions. In addition, under the SPS agreement, governments must accept imported products that meet their safety requirements, whether these products are the result of simpler, less sophisticated methods or advanced technologies. Strengthening technical assistance to developing countries in the area of food safety and animal and plant health, either bilaterally or through international organisations, is also part of the SPS Agreement. The scope of the two agreements is different. The SPS Convention covers all measures whose purpose is to protect: the two agreements have a number of common elements, including fundamental non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the establishment of information offices (“en-information points”). However, many of the material rules are different. For example, both agreements promote the application of international standards. However, according to the SPS Convention, the only justification for the absence of such standards for food safety and the protection of animal and plant health is the scientific argument resulting from an assessment of potential health risks. On the other hand, under the OBT, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological problems or geographical factors.

During the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations (1974-1979), an agreement on technical barriers to trade was negotiated (1979 TBT Convention or “standardization code”) (see note 2). Although this agreement was not primarily designed to regulate sanitary and phytosanitary measures, it did include technical requirements arising from food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, including limit values for pesticide residues, inspection requirements and labelling. Governments that were members of the 1979 OEP Convention agreed to use relevant international standards (e.g. B those developed by Codex for Food Safety), unless they believe that these standards would not adequately protect health. They also agreed to communicate to other Governments, through the GATT secretariat, all technical provisions that are not based on international standards. The 1979 OEE Agreement contained provisions on the settlement of trade disputes arising from the application of food safety and other technical restrictions. While a number of developing countries have excellent food safety and veterinary and phytosanitary services, others do not. For them, the requirements of the SPS Convention pose a challenge to improving the health situation of their population, livestock and crops, which can be difficult for some to meet. Because of these difficulties, the SPS Agreement delayed all requirements, with the exception of transparency (notification and establishment of contact points), until 1997 for developing countries and until 2000 for least developed countries. This means that these countries are not required to scientifically justify their sanitary or phytosanitary requirements before that date. Countries that need longer periods, for example to improve their veterinary services or to implement specific obligations under the Agreement, may request the SPS Committee to grant them further delays.

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