Canada has been elected chair of an important and influential World Trade Organization committee and it couldn’t come at a better time, says an agriculture industry executive.
Canada is heading up the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures Committee, a forum where WTO countries can raise concerns surrounding food safety and animal and plant life and health measures affecting trade.
“This development is great news for promoting science-based SPS rules,” the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance stated in a recent newsletter.
CAFTA executive director Claire Citeau said the committee sets the SPS rules and ensures WTO members abide by them.
“(The committee) states that SPS measures must be based on science, should only be applied to the extent necessary and not unjustifiably discriminate between countries or between domestic and imports,” she said in an email.
Citeau said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated trade tensions and the undermining of trade rules.
“Agri-food is probably the economic sector that is most vulnerable to protectionism,” she said.
“So in the current environment we must work twice as hard to address trade barriers and fight back a tide of protectionism creeping under the cover of nationalism.”
In the wake of COVID-19, 93 governments from around the world introduced more than 200 trade restrictions.
“The SPS (committee) has done a massive amount of work as a result of COVID, tracking all the measures and working to keep countries honest,” she said.
“International relations globally have been tested and there has been much work done to reaffirm commitments to trade based on rules agreed upon.”
In a recent webinar hosted by Export Development Canada, Citeau said today’s non-tariff barriers have become more problematic than tariffs themselves.
For example, European Union countries have been using SPS measures, as well as technical barriers to reduce the inflow of Canadian agricultural goods under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has been better, although Vietnam continues to employ non-tariff barriers to trade.
“Over the past 10 years, foreign governments around the world have been using non-tariff barriers at an alarming rate,” Citeau said during the EDC webinar.
“Too often they are thrown up without warning or scientific rationale.”
She urged the Canadian government to devote more attention to free trade agreement “after care” by ensuring its trade partners are abiding by the terms of the agreements.
“The myriad of non-tariff barriers is really, really large,” said Citeau.
As chair of the SPS committee, Canada should be able to promote the need for science- and risk-based rules and ensure the committee addresses concerns in a timely and transparent manner and that member countries abide by their obligations, she said in an email.
Citeau noted that Canada is one of 17 WTO countries advancing a SPS declaration for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference highlighting the importance of the SPS Agreement and its guiding principles.
“The declaration would initiate a work program to consider how to further enhance the implementation of the SPS Agreement in light of the opportunities and pressures created by the evolution of the global agricultural landscape,” she said.
Citeau said the WTO has its flaws but it is a rules-based trading system that is more important than ever.