In 2003, the United States challenged a number of EU legislation restricting the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a dispute known as biotech on the grounds that they were “unjustifiable” and illegal under the SPS agreement. In May 2006, the WTO`s dispute resolution body issued a complex ruling that challenged aspects of the EU GMO regulation, but rejected many of the US claims. A summary of the decision can be provided here. The agreement on the application of health and plant health measures, also known as the SPS agreement or simply SPS, is an international treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and came into force with the creation of the WTO in early 1995.  Overall, the health and plant health measures (“SPS”) covered by the agreement are those aimed at protecting life, the animal or the plant or human or plant health from certain risks.  The risk assessment is defined in Schedule A of Schedule A of the SPS agreement: an assessment of the likelihood of implantation, establishment or spread of a pest or disease on the territory of an importing member, in accordance with potential health or plant health measures and the potential biological and economic consequences that result; or assessing the potential for adverse effects on human and animal health resulting from the presence of additives, contaminants, toxins or pathogens in food, beverages or animal feed. The SPS Committee, created by the SPS Agreement to ensure compliance with its implementation, has reviewed the operation and implementation of the agreement three times since it came into force in 1995 (`). Many governments have enshrined the main obligations of the SPS agreement in their national rules. They first consider whether the application of one of the relevant international standards2 could provide the level of health protection that the country deems appropriate and, if not, base their application on an assessment of the health risks associated with the trade in the product.
The SPS Committee has developed guidelines to help governments define a coherent approach to defining their acceptable risk levels and select actions to achieve these objectives.3 The transparency provisions of the SPS agreement are designed to make measures to protect human, animal and plant health known to the public and trading partners. The agreement obliges governments to immediately publish all health and plant health provisions and to present, at the request of another government, the reasons for a specific food or animal or plant safety requirement. Health and plant health measures can, by their very nature, lead to trade restrictions. All governments accept that certain trade restrictions may be necessary to ensure food security and the protection of animal and plant health. However, there is sometimes pressure on governments to go beyond what is necessary to protect health and to use health and plant health restrictions to protect local producers from economic competition. This pressure is expected to increase as the Uruguay Round agreements remove new trade barriers. A health or plant health restriction, which is not really necessary for health reasons, can be a very effective protectionist device and, because of its technical complexity, constitute a particularly misleading and difficult obstacle. The agreement also contains a code of conduct for governments and non-governmental or industrial authorities to prepare, adopt and implement voluntary standards.