The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced recently that a new mediation procedure to help members settle their differences on food safety and animal and plant health measures has officially been agreed since no objections were raised by the September 5 deadline. A WTO press release states that this voluntary procedure seeks to help trade flow more smoothly by addressing “one of the pre-occupations of importers and exporters facing non-tariff barriers – the standards countries set on a range of issues, from maximum pesticide residues in food to preventing the spread of pests such as fruit fly and diseases such as bird flu in agricultural products.”

Concerns of this nature are usually first raised at the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Committee, the WTO states, where members seek a resolution through consultations, discussion in the committee, and peer pressure. At that point, the two sides are left to resolve their differences on their own. The new procedure is designed to bridge the existing gap between this committee-based process and full-scale litigation under the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure, which can be expensive and complicated. The SPS Agreement already allows members to seek the committee chair’s services as a mediator, the press release notes, and the new decision spells out steps that the members and the chair should follow when using this system.

The new procedures are available here.