Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)


  1.  Defra is the UK Government Department which houses the UK SPS enquiry and contact point, and which represents the UK at WTO SPS Committee meetings in Geneva.

  2.  As highlighted in DTI's note the setting and enforcement of SPS measures is decided at EU level and discussed by several "expert" bodies such as the Standing Committee on Plant Health and the various veterinary committees. The UK is represented by Defra and/or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) at these meetings and consult other Government Departments as appropriate.

  3.  The function of the SPS Committee is not to set standards, but to act as a forum for WTO members to discuss such issues as the application of SPS measures (these discussions largely focus on differences in interpretation of WTO rules—that measures exceed international standards, or are not science-based, for example), the need for Special and Differential Treatment for Developing Countries, Equivalency and Mutual Recognition, and Transparency.

  4.  Defra ensures that the relevant "expert" Defra divisions (notably, but not exclusively, Plant Health Division and International Animal Health Division) and other Government Departments (principally FSA on public health issues, DTI as the trade lead, and DfID given the importance that SPS measures hold for Developing Countries, but also FCO) are aware of and are able to incorporate their views into the UK position by:

    —  Circulating the agendas for the co-ordination and formal meetings, beforehand to gain expert/OGD input on the items to be raised, and also giving them the opportunity to raise any items of UK interest not on the agenda.

    —  Writing and circulating a report of the meeting, highlighting items of UK interest.

    —  Regularly circulating notifications of measures which have been proposed by WTO Member States, which may be of interest to the UK.

  5.  In addition, Defra welcomes representatives of any Government Department to attend the co-ordination and formal meetings if they wish—FSA, DTI and DfID representatives have all attended in the past few years.

  6.  Defra officials work closely with other Government Departments to ensure that WTO/SPS concerns are taken into account on those extremely rare occasions (three times since 1996) when the UK wants to introduce an emergency measure prior to full discussions at the EU level. The most recent example of this was the close work between Defra, FSA, DTI and DfID over FSA's proposal to ban the use of Kava-kava in the UK, due to concerns over its effects on human health.

June 2003

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