Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Barriers to Trade

What are sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures?


SPS measures consist of laws, decrees, regulations, requirements, and procedures that countries adopt to protect human, animal, or plant life and health against certain risks. These measures generally aim to promote food safety and protect against risks stemming from cross-border spread of contaminants, diseases, and pests affecting animals and plants. Examples of SPS measures include: requirements for products to come from disease-free areas; specific treatment or processing of products; thresholds for pesticide residues; and permitted use of certain additives in food. However, these measures can also sometimes act as trade restrictions, especially for smaller firms with fewer compliance resources, and it is important that policymakers ensure that all firms can easily comply. For more information, see Understanding the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures


What are the types of SPS measures that can apply to imports? 


SPS measures can be said to include six broad categories: 

  • prohibitions or restrictions of imports for sanitary and phytosanitary reasons; 
  • tolerance limits for residues and restricted use of substances; 
  • labelling, marking, and packaging requirements directly related to food safety; 
  • hygienic requirements related to sanitary and phytosanitary conditions; 
  • treatment for elimination of plant and animal pests and disease-causing organisms in the final product or prohibition of treatment; and 
  • other requirements relating to production or post-production processes. 

In addition, SPS measures cover procedures to verify that products meet SPS requirements. For a more comprehensive list of SPS measures, see the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) International Classification of Non-Tariff Measures.


What are technical barriers to trade (TBT)? 


TBT measures include product-related technical regulations and standards, as well as procedures to assess compliance with the requirements set out in these regulations and standards. While conformity with standards is voluntary, technical regulations are mandatory. TBT measures are used by a country for safety reasons, to protect the environment, to enhance national security, or to provide information to consumers, among other considerations. For more information, see the WTO Agreement Series on Technical Barriers to Trade.


What are examples of TBT measures?


TBT measures can take the form of: 

  • testing and certification requirements to ensure product quality, safety, or performance; 
  • labelling, marking, and packaging requirements; 
  • production or post-production requirements; 
  • product identity requirements; and 
  • product quality, safety, or performance requirements.  


Some examples of TBT measures include packaging or labelling requirements, such as health warnings on tobacco products; regulations on product characteristics, such as energy performance requirements for electrical appliances; or conformity assessment procedures, such as testing procedures for motor vehicle safety requirements. For more information on what constitutes a TBT, see the WTO’s information on Technical regulations and standards. For a complete list of different types of TBT measures, see UNCTAD’s International Classification of Non-Tariff Measures (chapter B).


Why do SPS/TBT measures matter for MSMEs?


While SPS and TBT measures are important to protect human, animal, or plant life or health and ensure the quality of products, keeping abreast of new measures and complying with them may be challenging for small businesses. For example, the International Trade Centre (ITC) SME Competitiveness Outlook 2016 found that increases in the frequency of regulatory or procedural trade measures have been associated with larger decreases in the export value of MSMEs compared to larger firms.


What can policymakers do?


Policymakers can play a role in reducing the costs and complexity associated with SPS and TBT measures by involving MSMEs in regulatory- and standard-setting processes. Applying a Think Small First Principle (see guide on the Think-Small-First Principle) can make the voice and concerns of MSMEs heard and help tailor TBT and SPS measures to MSME needs. In addition, policymakers can enhance their transparency efforts by notifying the adopted final text of technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, and other developments in TBT and SPS measures. The World Trade Organization (WTO)’s SPS Measures and Transparency Toolkits for TBT contains guidelines and resources for policymakers to communicate their updates on TBT and SPS. Policymakers can also raise MSME awareness of the e-ping platform which facilitates tracking of SPS and TBT measures, in particular by receiving email alerts on notifications on products and/or markets of interest as well as contact information of enquiry points.


Where can policymakers access more resources?

  • The ePing SPS&TBT Platform: This Platform allows search of SPS/TBT information on notifications, specific trade concerns, as well as the contact information of enquiry points (and notification authorities). Of particular interest to exporters is ePing’s customized email alerts service to receive early notice of changes to regulations.
  • Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) Good Regulatory Practices: This guide is designed for developing economy government officials tasked with developing SPS measures. Visit the report. STDF also offers funding opportunities for public sector entities, business support organizations, and non-profit NGOs for SPS-capacity building projects. Visit the STDF funding opportunities webpage 
  • WTO’s Agreement Series on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures: This resource is designed to improve public understanding of the WTO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures by describing key features of the SPS Agreement and addressing frequently asked questions on SPS matters. Visit the WTO website.
  • WTO’s Practical Manual for SPS National Notification Authorities and SPS National Enquiry Points: This resource provides advice and guidance for governments to facilitate the implementation of transparency provisions of the SPS Agreement and understand the framework of SPS measures in trade. Visit the WTO website.


Where can policymakers access further resources on TBT policy guidelines and frameworks?

  • WTO’s Technical Information on Technical Barriers to Trade: This resource Underlines the principles of the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and their relevance for international trade. Visit the WTO website.
  • WTO TBT Enquiry Point Guide: This guide documents best practices on the performance of enquiry points for TBT measures and offers insights for training and capacity-building purposes. Visit the WTO website.

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