Zahrnt and Hebebrand discuss impact of sanitary and phytosanitary standards on trade and development
On November 5, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Valentin Zahrnt and Charlotte Hebebrand for a discussion on the impact of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures on trade and development. SPS measures play an important role in protecting human, animal, and plant health, but when national standards diverge from each other, they can be cumbersome and difficult to comply with, especially for developing country producers. In some cases they may even function as non-tariff barriers that have trade distorting effects.
During the event Valentin Zahrnt, a Research Associate at the European Center for International Political Economy (ECIPE), presented his recent paper examining the ways in which the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could facilitate a more coherent and user-friendly SPS standard-setting process. In general, the TPRM functions to allow WTO member states the opportunity to examine the trade policies of their fellow members, and to raise questions and concerns. In his remarks, Zarhnt outlined the shortcomings of the current treatment of SPS measures in the TPR process. He argued that the TPRM does not go into sufficient detail, and thus fails to capture the most salient dimensions of SPS policymaking. It also fails to examine current or planned changes in a country's SPS regime. In order to be most effective, TPRs should explicate how SPS policies are made, in order to force countries themselves to consider the logic behind potentially overly complex regulations.
On the other hand, Charlotte Hebebrand, Chief Executive of the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC), put emphasis on the need to simplify procedures for import into the United States and Europe, as opposed to a relaxing of the standards themselves. Hebebrand recently worked on a study comparing the SPS standards of green beans and seafood in the United States and Europe. While the transatlantic partners have similar standards, they have very different rules to sustain compliance with those standards. Hebebrand contended that in the case of the United States, the rules for importing green beans are so complex that they function as a barrier to trade for developing countries, whereas the European Union has a much clearer and simpler set of rules. The reverse is true for seafood. Hebebrand argued for streamlining the SPS compliance requirements of the United States and European countries, either individually or transatlantically, with development in mind. In addition, she highlighted the importance of increasing development assistance aimed at helping developing countries achieve compliance as well as improve their own domestic standards.
The event was moderated by Katrin Kuhlman, a Transatlantic Fellow with GMF. Kuhlman supported the idea that SPS measures present not only a market access issue but also a capacity-building challenge for developing countries. She argued for a more targeted, demand-driven approach to trade related capacity building for SPS measures that would focus on products and sectors in which developing countries are able to fill a true market demand. This assistance should target small and larger producers up and down the value chain, in order to ensure that an entire trade-capable ecosystem is developed in these countries. During the event some participants put forward the need to be cognizant of private sector standards for food safety and necessity to provide capacity-building assistance for SPS compliance directly to producers and exporters, as opposed to governments.