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Harmonisation of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures


Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are measures that are applied to protect human or animal life from food-borne risks and from plant-carried diseases. SPS measures may become (non-tariff) trade barriers when they differ from country to country, as exporters have to meet the respective differing requirements which increases their transaction costs. Examples of SPS measures are tolerance limits for residues, restricted use of certain substances or specific labelling requirements related to food safety.

The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It encourages governments to establish national SPS measures consistent with international standards, guidelines and recommendations.

It allows countries to set their own standards. But it also says regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. And they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary.

The agreement still allows countries to use different standards and different methods of inspecting products. For more information see the WTO website on background information to the SPS Agreement.


  • A properly functioning country-wide administration and monitoring system with access to the relevant information and sufficient technical and human capacities for its design, implementation and monitoring
  • Bi- or multilateral trade agreements for transparency and equal reduction of trade barriers
  • Clear and coherent political strategy and targets for policy-makers and public authorities
  • Clear responsibilities in public authorities
  • Close cooperation and knowledge sharing with research institutions
  • Compatible regional and world trade law (WTO conformity)
  • Efficient customs administration
  • Laboratories for residue and contaminant analysis in food and feedstuffs
  • Properly functioning veterinary and health authorities
  • Regular staff instruction
  • Regulatory framework
  • Skilled / specialised personnel to man the respective institutions / provide the respective services

Possible Negative Effects

  • May become a trade barrier
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This page was last edited on 7 May 2023 | 7:22 (CEST)
Implementation Level
  • Competent Authority
  • National Government
Required Budget
medium ($$)
Impact Horizon
  • short
  • medium
  • long
Administrative Complexity
Ministries Involved
  • Agriculture, Fisheries & Forests
  • Trade, Industry & Economic Development
  • Health
Trade Impact
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  • Policy Objectives