Item 6.1 consideration of Special Treatment of Developing Countries
Item 6.2 Revision of the Acceptance Procedure
31. The Committee reviewed the paper provided by the Secretariat which provided an analysis of the provisions included in the SPS and TBT Agreements and examined how or if similar provisions could be applied in Codex procedures. The Committee stressed that it would not be the Commission's intention when applying special or differential treatment to developing countries, to recommend different standards for consumer health protection in different countries or to reduce the level of health protection inherent in its standards. The Committee stated that the right to health protection was the same for all countries. The scientific basis of Codex standards could be used to provide the necessary protection which all countries should be able to accept.
32. Several Delegations raised the issue of the implications of Codex standards on commercial considerations and trade, and in this regard special consideration should be given to the position of developing countries and their socio-economic situation. In particular, it was stressed that Codex standards should not have the effect of creating trade barriers for exporting developing countries. It was pointed out that small island countries had very particular problems requiring special consideration.
33. Several delegations noted that the genuine constraints of developing countries in meeting their full commitment to accept Codex standards should be recognized. The point was raised that developing countries needed time to adapt their national requirements and to develop their infrastructures to meet new standards. It was also pointed out that standards relating to quality also had a significant impact on commercial transactions and trade.
34. Several Delegations from developing countries stated that many of their problems in trade arose from the fact that trading partners did not apply Codex standards and that as a result they had to meet a variety of different national requirements applied by importing countries. The Observer from CSPI noted that many consumers in developed countries would not support Codex standards unless they provided the same level of protection as national standards in these countries.
35. The Committee agreed that special efforts were needed to enhance the participation of developing countries in Codex. A number of Delegations pointed out that among the most significant problems to be addressed was the lack of well-organized and structured Codex Contact Points or national Codex Committees, inadequate capacity for risk assessment, access to important documentation and problems of communication. Proposals were made to enhance the participation of developing countries through training in the use of risk analysis in the elaboration of Codex standards, sharing of risk assessment data between countries, and the increased use of written communications to achieve world-wide consensus on the issues before Codex, especially through remote participation via email, internet and other modern technologies. Some delegations stated that the difficulties faced by developing countries in attending sessions due to financial constraints should be recognized by Codex. The Delegation of Chile proposed that as a way of promoting participation, specific work which required special meetings or working groups of Codex Committees should be held in developing countries where possible, and organized jointly between the country chairing the meeting and the host country.
36. In the search for more universal consensus, which required the active participation of developing countries and therefore led to greater acceptability of Codex Standards, it was stated that there was a need to develop intake and exposure information from the developing countries and for these data to be shared with other countries. It was also stated that experts from developing countries should play an enhanced role in the scientific expert panels that advise Codex.
37. Many Delegations raised the need for technical assistance in several areas, in particular in the strengthening of national Codex structures; in training in the application of risk analysis; and in enhancing skills and infrastructures. The work of FAO, WHO, other multilateral agencies and bilateral agencies was noted and strongly supported. It was also stated that developing countries should establish the internal political support for strengthening their national Codex and food control systems within the framework of national priorities in order for external technical assistance to be of lasting value. It was stated that inter-country exchanges of experience and information could sometimes be considered to strengthen the Codex structures in developing countries and that there was an opportunity to discuss these issues at the regional level.
38. The Representative of FAO drew attention to the need for greater compliance with Codex standards and noted that FAO continued its normative activities to develop guidance on food quality, including food safety, to assist developing countries to establish basic food laws, regulations and standards; train inspectors technicians and laboratory personnel; and help equip laboratories. Funding to support the participation of developing countries at Codex meetings, particularly Regional Coordinating Committees, had been made possible with external support. It was also noted that national and sub-regional workshops on the establishment and administration of Codex Contact Points had now been held in over 30 countries. The Representative of WTO stated that some practical steps to facilitate participation had been taken, including the scheduling of meetings of the WTO SPS Committee close to the major meetings of Codex so as to reduce travel costs. Technical assistance was a standing item on the agenda of the SPS Committee. The Representative noted that with the assistance of the World Bank and with generous contributions to trust funds, practical measures such as the provision of Internet communication facilities in least-developed countries in Africa and the holding of information exchange workshops were being undertaken. The Representative of WHO indicated that its document Food Safety and Globalization of Trade: a challenge for the public health sector had been translated into 7 languages and transmitted by the Director-General of WHO to all Ministers of Health. The Representative also noted that Ministries of Health had been asked to consider using part of their national WHO budget to sponsor participation at Codex sessions.
39. The Committee also noted that the possibilities of remote communication had been extended, with a majority of Codex Contact Points participating in the Codex-L electronic distribution list being from developing countries. Moreover, the Codex Committee on Milk and Milk Products had established two electronic working groups (open to all Members of the Commission) to develop and discuss draft standards scheduled for discussion at the Committee's next meeting.
40. The Delegation of India reiterated that minimum standards should be representative and be arrived at after considering all regional socio-economic factors. The Delegation proposed that standards for food commodities having significant international trade implications be identified and taken up for review by consensus on a priority basis.
41. The Committee in general observed that there had to be a uniform and scientific approach to the elaboration of food safety standards, and that such standards should be respected by all countries. It stressed that the level of protection should not be lowered for commercial or trade reasons. The Committee stressed the need for enhanced participation of developing countries in the Codex process through improved infrastructures and communication (especially Internet and other remote participation) and for the provision of technical assistance, partnerships and regional activities. It noted that any consideration of special and differential treatment would need to be on a case-by-case basis and noted the conclusions presented in the working paper. It was suggested that the above issues should be taken up in the consideration of the revision of the Code of Ethics for International Trade in Foods (See also Item 10).
42. The Committee recalled that following the decision of the 21st Session of the Commission to initiate the revision of the acceptance procedure, the last session had considered proposals for an amended procedure, and agreed that it should be redrafted for further consideration. The Secretariat presented the revised document that had been prepared following the recommendation of the 22nd Session of the Commission to proceed with the revision the procedure rather than abolish it.
43. The Committee recognized that the current procedures had not been used frequently and recalled that Codex standards were a reference in the framework of the WTO Agreements irrespective of acceptance. It was therefore agreed that the current procedure should be revised and updated as it was not any longer adapted to the current context, but should not be abolished.
44. The Committee also noted that although acceptance was not commonly applied, many governments used Codex texts as a basis for their legislation or as a reference for import and export in the areas where no national legislation existed, as it appeared from the information provided at the level of Coordinating Committees. The Committee recognized the necessity to establish a mechanism which would make it easier for governments to provide relevant information on the application and use of Codex standards.
45. Some delegations expressed the view that the present system should be maintained as it allowed governments some time to consider new standards and adapt their regulations accordingly, especially in developing countries. Other delegations pointed out that in view of the request for notification under SPS, the establishment of another such system within Codex would put an additional burden on governments, without any appreciable result. It was also suggested that, in order to simplify the system, notification might be required from governments only in the cases when their national legislation was significantly different from Codex texts. With a view to avoid duplication and coordinate efforts, the Delegation of Chile proposed to study the formalization of an agreement with the SPS and TBT Committees.
46. Some delegations, referring to the notification systems under the SPS and TBT Agreements, pointed out that Codex as an independent body also needed a notification system for its own purposes. This would be useful to provide information to member countries on the application of Codex texts in national regulations, especially for developing countries which might face difficulties to obtain information on the legislation of importing countries. In addition, the establishment of a comparative record would allow monitoring the harmonization of standards in the perspective of the WTO Agreements.
47. In order to simplify the notification system and to make it workable, some delegations were in favour of a suggestion to define priorities for notification and to test the new notification system with a limited set of standards (to be determined), in order to evaluate its efficiency after a few years. It was however recalled that following the request of the 21st Session of the Commission, the establishment of priorities had been considered in Coordinating Committees and in view of the reports provided, the 22nd Session of the Commission had decided that this exercise should be discontinued.
48. Several delegations expressed the view that the proposals included in the document should be simplified; in particular governments should not be required to identify the differences between national regulations and Codex texts. The Committee agreed that this should not be included in the new notification system and noted a proposal to retain "free distribution" as included in the current provisions.
49. The Committee agreed that the document should be redrafted by the Secretariat in the light of the above discussion in order to establish a simplified system of notification, for consideration by the next session.