Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS)

The World Trade Organization Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) enables sanitary and phytosanitary measures to be taken, in the context of trade, to protect human, animal or plant life or health, provided that those measures either conform to international standards or are scientifically justified on the basis of assessment of risks. The Agreement was agreed by the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The Parties to the WTO, currently 149, are automatically Parties to the SPS Agreement.

Objectives and approach

The SPS Agreement allows countries to set their own standards on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, in the context of trade, to protect human, animal or plant life or health. These regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health and should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary. They can to some extent apply the precautionary principle as Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement allows temporary ‘precautionary’ measures.

The agreement includes provisions on control, inspection and approval procedures. Governments must provide advance notice of new or changed sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, and establish a national enquiry point to provide information. The agreement complements the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Institutional Structure

The Agreement establishes a Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures to provide a regular forum for consultations. It carries out the functions necessary to implement the provisions of the Agreement and the furtherance of its objectives.