The scope of the two agreements is different. The SPS Convention includes all measures aimed at protecting: environmental protection measures (other than defined above), protection of consumer interests or animal welfare are not covered by the SPS agreement. However, these concerns are addressed by other WTO agreements (i.e. the OBT agreement or Article XX of the 1994 GATT). In addition, health and plant health measures can only be imposed to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant health on the basis of scientific information. However, governments can introduce OBT rules where necessary to achieve a number of objectives, such as national security or the prevention of deceptive practices. Since the commitments made by governments are different under the two agreements, it is important to know whether a measure is a health or plant health measure or a measure subject to the OBT agreement. The two agreements have a number of common elements, including fundamental non-discrimination obligations and similar requirements for prior notification of proposed measures and the creation of information offices (“Information Points”). However, many of the substantive rules are different. Thus, both agreements promote the application of international standards.
However, under the SPS agreement, the only justifications for non-application of these standards for food safety and protection of animal/vegetable health are scientific arguments arising from an assessment of potential health risks. On the other hand, under the OBT agreement, governments may decide that international standards are not appropriate for other reasons, including fundamental technological problems or geographical factors. All governments of WTO member states must have an investigative body, an office to counter and respond to requests for information on the health and plant health measures of these countries. These requests may be copies of new or existing regulations, information on relevant agreements between two countries, or information on risk assessment decisions. The addresses of the application points can be found here. 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. In adopting the WTO agreement, governments have agreed to be bound by the rules of all multilateral trade agreements attached to it, including the SPS agreement. In the event of a trade dispute, WTOs dispute resolution procedures (click here for an introduction, click here for more details) encourage the governments concerned to find a mutually acceptable bilateral solution through formal consultations. If governments are unable to resolve their dispute, they may choose to follow one of the different ways of resolving disputes, including good offices, conciliation, mediation and arbitration. Another government may request the creation of an impartial body of trade experts to hear from all parties to the dispute and make recommendations. The SPS agreement strengthens the transparency of health and plant health measures. Countries should define SPS measures on the basis of an appropriate assessment of the actual risks they present and, on request, indicate which factors they have taken into account, what procedures