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Pesticide proposal floated at WTO ahead of ministerial

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A World Trade Organization (WTO) draft ministerial decision on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs) was proposed by the United States, Uganda and Kenya at an informal meeting of WTO's Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) on November 1. The nations also released a set of recommendations to address the MRL issue.

Three kinds of reactions were reported among members according to committee Chairman Marcial Espínola Ramirez of Paraguay: a large number of members voiced support for both the recommendations and for the proposed decision to be adopted at the 11th WTO ministerial conference this December in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a few members supported the recommendations but voiced concerns about a ministerial decision; finally, other members were concerned the decision does not fully address the range of issues related to MRLs.

A pesticide MRL is the maximum amount of pesticide residue allowed on food products that is not a concern for human health. The US, Kenya and Uganda proposal notes that agricultural producers are increasingly concerned over the impact of missing and misaligned MRLs on their exports.

For its part, the US said it is hopeful that the this week's formal SPS committee meeting will adopt the recommendations. The proposal and the recommendations would then be forwarded to Council for Trade in Goods, which will then be transmitted to the General Council and MC11.

Also circulated at the SPS Committee was a document that with a set of recommendations to enhance standard development, transparency and cooperation on the use of MRLs.

One of the challenges noted during the workshop is the significant bottleneck in standards setting. The WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures requires that trade measures to protect food safety, animal and plant health should follow with international standards. Due to resource constraints, the standard setting process is having difficulty keeping up with the large number of new pesticide compounds and their use on different crops. This is especially true for specialty crops and the use of pesticides where the potential use is not large enough to justify registration.

The proposed actions include:

1. Enhancing the capacity and efficiency of Codex Alimentarius in setting international standards;

2. Increasing transparency and predictability in setting of 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. Using the WTO SPS Committee to increase coordination and harmonization.

Members that supported the proposal and an MC11 decision included most African and (North and South) American members and other major agricultural product exporters: Nigeria, Canada, Senegal, Madagascar, Peru, Brazil, Turkey, Chile, Burkina Faso, Togo, Colombia, Belize, Mozambique, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Japan and Uruguay.

European Union response

The European Union (EU) said that it supported the recommendations and was pleased that its earlier comments had been considered.

Yet the proposal for a ministerial decision came at a very late stage (first circulated on October 3), and the EU is concerned about taking one particular topic to the Ministerial Conference while leaving aside other equally important topics.

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