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Source: World Trade Organisation

Today’s session will launch two publications focusing on animal health and trade: (i) the OIE Scientific and Technical Review on “Ensuring safe trade in animals and animal products“; and (ii) the OIE Technical Item 2020 on “Required competences of Veterinary Services for international trade“. Both publications underscore the importance of facilitating safe trade of animals and animal products, and the crucial role that Veterinary Services play in trade. In addition, the publications highlight practical experiences and tools for the implementation of safe trade, all in the context of the international framework of trade rules and international standards underpinning trade.

The WTO is pleased to have collaborated with the OIE on one of the publications that is being launched today – the OIE Scientific and Technical Review on “Ensuring safe trade in animals and animal products”. This publication presents a series of articles to assist OIE and WTO Members, and those in the international community interested in trade in animals and animal products, to better understand the frameworks created by WTO Agreements and OIE international standards.

As highlighted in the introduction of this publication, global animal health and world trade are two areas where international cooperation is essential. This has become abundantly clear in the current coronavirus pandemic. Diseases move without regard to national boundaries, and what is true for human diseases also holds true for animal diseases.

Efficient monitoring and control of such diseases is only possible when Veterinary Services cooperate across borders to exchange information on disease prevalence, share experiences on how to control them, and agree on joint initiatives to avoid their spread, reduce their prevalence and even eradicate them. Similarly, international trade works best when exporting and importing countries agree on a common set of principles, to remove unnecessary trade barriers, avoid unpleasant surprises, and inform each other when requirements change.

Early detection and control of animal diseases require international collaboration, and the OIE leads and coordinates this work. When countries cooperate to understand scientific information on animal diseases, share data on disease prevalence and spread, and discuss how best to address and prevent these diseases, the impact of their coordinated actions is far greater than could be achieved through individual efforts.

To ensure that international trade does not become a means of transmitting animal diseases across borders, national Veterinary Services develop requirements for imports of animals and animal products. While necessary to ensure safe trade, such requirements can become unnecessary obstacles to trade when they are overly burdensome and go beyond what is required by science to protect animal health.

The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) aims to ensure that such requirements, or ‘measures’, are not overly restrictive to trade. It requires that such measures have a scientific basis and be transparent, taking into account local sanitary conditions.

There are also other WTO Agreements relevant to trade in animals and animal products, such as the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), as well as the more recent Trade Facilitation Agreement, which also define the legal rights and obligations of trading partners, including in the areas of non-discrimination and transparency.

The OIE, which is recognized by the SPS Agreement as the international standard-setting body in the area of animal health, develops science-based, disease-specific standards which are fundamental for the safe trade of animals and animal products. It also provides important horizontal guidance, such as on the role of Veterinary Services in managing animal health, animal welfare and veterinary public health in their country.

The Review publication – Ensuring Safe Trade in Animals and Animal Products –being released today, is a very useful and timely resource to highlight this international framework created by WTO Agreements and OIE international standards. The publication examines this framework in detail, explaining the relevant WTO Agreements and their main provisions, and reviewing the implementation of OIE standards, as well as the role of good regulatory practices.

Other themes captured in the publication include ‘Negotiating market access for animals and animal products’ which examines the relevant SPS Agreement provisions, such as the principles of equivalence, regionalization and risk assessment, as well as the practical application of these concepts.

The section on ‘Models for a national official assurance system’ explores in detail the systems essential to building trust among veterinary authorities in exporting and importing countries to facilitate trade.

‘Veterinary certification’ is another key theme, linked to the SPS Agreement’s provisions on control, inspection and approval systems. It is important to emphasize that in the current context of trade in a COVID-19 world, the growing use of electronic certification systems has become especially important to facilitating trade.  

Finally, the publication also highlights a concept that plays a central role in trade in animals and animal products, and in both WTO Agreements and OIE’s work – that of transparency. During the current pandemic, this publication provides some key answers to questions of the relationship of disease in animal and animal product and safe international trade.

Some of the themes explored in the publication will be presented in today’s session by several of the authors.  I thank the OIE for the excellent collaboration with the WTO.

I wish you a productive and engaging session.

MIL OSI Economics