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).

How can I find information on enquiry points for SPS and TBT measures?

An updated list of WTO Members’ SPS and TBT enquiry points can be consulted on the ePing website. In addition, interested public and private sector stakeholders can register on ePing to receive email alerts on changes to regulatory requirements notified by WTO member governments.

For more related information, see the guide on enquiry/contact  points

Where can I access further resources on SPS policy guidelines and frameworks?

  • 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.
  • WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Information Management System (SPS IMS): This is a comprehensive database that enables users to identify all SPS notifications and specific trade concerns raised by the WTO SPS Committee. Visit the SPS IMS.

Where can I 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
  • WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade Information Management System (TBT IMS): This is a comprehensive database that enables users to identify all TBT notifications and specific trade concerns raised by the WTO TBT Committee. Visit the TBT IMS.