A primary goal of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement is to insure that food is traded safely and that animal and plant pests or diseases are not spread through trade means that import restrictions are sometimes required. The SPS Agreement seeks to strike a balance between the right of WTO members to protect health and the need to allow the smooth flow of goods across international borders. The Agreement recognizes the right of WTO members to adopt legitimate measures to protect food safety and animal and plant health while ensuring these measures are not applied in an unnecessary manner for protectionist purposes.

The SPS Agreement encourages WTO members to base their regulations on the health and safety standards developed by the three relevant international expert bodies, namely the Codex Alimentarius Commission (for food safety), the International Plant Protection Convention (for plant health) and the World Organization for Animal Health (for animal health and animal diseases transmittable to humans). WTO members who want to impose more stringent requirements must be able to justify these measures based on a scientific assessment of health risks.

Other key provisions of the SPS Agreement are that it recognizes that:

  • different processes or means of production may result in equally safe products
  • the least trade-restrictive measures should be used to achieve the desired level of health protection
  • there should be consistency in the level of health protection sought in the face of comparable risks
  • different areas within a country may pose different levels of animal or plant pest or disease risks.