No consensus on proposed MC11 decision on pesticide residues
Published in SUNS #8571 dated 9 November 2017

Geneva, 8 Nov (Kanaga Raja) - A proposed decision by Kenya, Uganda and the United States on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs) sought to be tabled before ministers at the upcoming WTO's eleventh ministerial conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires has failed to garner consensus.

This became evident at a formal meeting of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) on 2-3 November.

The proponents have circulated the latest revision of their proposal (G/SPS/W/292/Rev.2) which contains a set of five recommendations that stem from a workshop on pesticide MRLs held by the SPS Committee last year, as well as a proposed Ministerial Decision that the proponents have invited the SPS Committee to endorse for transmission to MC11.

The proposal was earlier discussed at an informal meeting of the SPS Committee on 1 November.

According to trade officials, the five recommendations mooted by the proponents in their proposal include:

1. Increasing the capacity and efficiency of Codex Alimentarius in setting international standards on pesticide MRLs;

2. Improving transparency and predictability in Members' setting of national MRLs;

3. Sharing information on international and regional efforts to harmonize, streamline, and improve MRL setting processes;

4. Enabling greater access to lower-risk pesticides and pesticides for minor-use crops, particularly in developing countries; and

5. Discussing the role of the SPS Committee in increasing coordination and harmonization.

The proposed Ministerial Decision annexed to the proposal (G/SPS/W/292/Rev.2) states:

"The Ministerial Conference decides as follows:

"We recognize the work undertaken by the SPS Committee to examine pesticide-related issues that have an adverse impact on international trade in food and agricultural products, and to achieve consensus on collaborative actions to reduce that impact on trade, particularly on the agricultural exports of developing countries. We affirm the central importance of risk analysis to assess, manage and communicate [risks of concern] [risks] associated with pesticide use in order to protect public health while enabling the safe use of pesticides and facilitating trade in food and agricultural products. We endorse the consensus reached in the SPS Committee on voluntary actions by Members to increase the capacity and efficiency of Codex in setting international standards on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs); to improve transparency and predictability in Members' setting of national MRLs; to achieve greater [harmonization] [alignment] across national and regional MRLs; and, to enable greater access to alternative pesticides and pesticides for minor-use crops, particularly in developing countries. We acknowledge the productive work of the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) in building knowledge and capacity for developing countries in the area of pesticide MRLs. We encourage the SPS Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the voluntary actions and the STDF work in addressing trade concerns related to food and agricultural products and to consider further collaborative, consensus actions as appropriate."

In a separate Job/CTG/11 document submitted to the Council for Trade in Goods, the three proponents said that agricultural producers report growing concern over the impact on their exports of missing and misaligned maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in markets around the world.

Since 2014, Members of the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) have discussed these concerns and heard from experts from the Codex Alimentarius (Codex), the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, regulatory authorities of Members, producer groups and other industry experts on collaborative work underway in other fora to reduce the impact of missing and misaligned MRLs on exports of food and agricultural products, particularly for developing countries.

According to the proponents, despite extensive recent improvements, additional efforts to address current capacity limitations in Codex are needed to develop the array of MRLs needed to support global trade.

In addition, the data packages necessary to evaluate safety are expensive to develop, and in some cases (such as for pesticides that have gone off patent, or for minor-uses and specialty crops) there is little economic incentive to develop these data packages.

Additional work is needed to address these issues, including greater support for the collaborative work on data generation and submission, as well as support for creative initiatives underway in, inter alia, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the East African Community (EAC).

In addition, work in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on common dossiers and standard methodologies for calculating national MRLs can help to address unnecessary variations in MRLs across major markets, they said.

The proponents said that they are seeking agreement of the SPS Committee on these actions at its meeting on 2-3 November 2017, and endorsement of a Ministerial Decision for MC-11.

Ministerial recognition of the recommendations would elevate them from their current technical and regulatory context and provide significant momentum towards resolution, they maintained.

According to trade officials, the Chair of the SPS Committee, Mr. Marcial Espinola Ramirez of Paraguay, said that he had heard broad support for both the recommendations and the proposed ministerial decision. A few members supported the recommendations but voiced concerns about a ministerial decision; and one member felt the proposed decision does not fully address the spectrum of issues related with MRLs, and thus considered it premature to recommend the proposal to a higher body.

Senegal, Argentina, Canada, Nigeria, Madagascar, Turkey, Uruguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Belize, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ukraine, Peru, and Liberia expressed support for both the recommendations and the draft ministerial decision.

According to trade officials, India pointed out that its own proposal on pesticide MRLs (G/SPS/W/284, 2 April 2015) remains unaddressed.

Therefore, India said, it would be premature to recommend the joint proposal in its current form to the Council for Trade in Goods (CTG) for consideration.

[According to India, the main purpose of its paper is to put in context the persistent problem faced by exporters from developing countries with application of limits of detection (LoD) of pesticide residues in importing countries. It has been observed by India that LoD is being resorted to frequently in respect of substances where international standards as established by the Codex in fact exist, the Indian paper said.

[This practice of having the MRL at LoD level in respect of pesticides not registered/not in use in the importing country, is increasing among Members and is highly disruptive to international trade, the paper pointed out. It cited several examples in this regard.

[India had recommended that the systemic issues for imports arising from use of LoD needs further consideration within the SPS Committee. It needs to be considered whether certain guidelines can be recommended before importing countries resort to any default LoD levels, with a view to minimizing the adverse impact on trade, it said.]

According to trade officials, Russia also said that it is concerned that the draft decision for MC11 has come at a late stage and members still have disagreements on the recommendations.

China said that the proposal has scientific and representative basis. It expressed hope that its suggested changes to the text would be taken on board. It also informed members that Beijing was still considering the proposed ministerial decision.

According to trade officials, the United States said that it is "unfortunate" that the SPS Committee had lost an opportunity for an MC11 decision.

The issue of MRLs disproportionally affect farmers and growers in developing countries and LDCs, the US maintained.

Therefore, it said, the lost opportunity for a decision on this matter is disappointing for these, as well as for policymakers in developing countries who worked so hard to advance trade opportunities.

The US went on to address the concerns voiced by the opponents of a decision on this issue at MC11, saying that although a first draft of the ministerial decision was only circulated on 3 October, the issue has been discussed in the SPS Committee for over a year.

According to the US, the Committee has a mandate to deal with matters concerning food safety, animal and plant health standards.

According to trade officials, the US signalled that it would no longer pursue a ministerial decision on this issue by MC11. Kenya and Uganda however did not indicate their plans, trade officials added.

The Chair of the SPS Committee said that he is open to continuing the discussions. According to trade officials, he called on members to continue to discuss with their capitals and with each other.

Apart from this issue, the SPS Committee also discussed several specific trade concerns that have been raised by members including on the EU's residue requirements on the use of three pesticides; the EU's maximum level for cadmium in foodstuffs; the EU's proposed criteria to identify endocrine disruptors; on India's fumigation requirements; and the EU's salmonella limits in poultry meat.

According to trade officials, under an agenda item on monitoring of international standards, Argentina and the US voiced concerns over the ongoing delays in the EU over the renewal of the authorization for glyphosate, a herbicide widely used in weed control.

This concern was also echoed by Canada and New Zealand.

[Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup that is to be used along with its genetically modified crop seeds; and some recent studies have suggested a cancer risk linked to the use of Roundup. SUNS]

Last month, EU member states had failed to agree on whether to renew the license for glyphosate for a further 10 years.

The US maintained that members' actions to restrict the use of glyphosate appear to lack scientific justification.

It said the scientific body setting international standards - the joint FAO/WHO meeting on pesticide residues (JMPR) - concluded that glyphosate does not pose a risk to consumers or pose public health concerns.

According to trade officials, the EU said there had been intensive internal discussions on the possible renewal of the glyphosate license.

The EU said it is committed to finding a solution that ensures a high level of protection for human health and the environment and that is based on sound science.