Transparency of Complex Regulation: How Should WTO Trade Policy Reviews Deal with Sanitary and Phytosanitary Policies?
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures that protect human, animal, and plant health are impeding trade and provoking high-profile disputes. This paper argues that the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM) could play an important role in defusing the trade-disrupting potential of SPS regulation. The most promising avenue is to review in greater detail the policy-making procedures that lead to SPS measures. How transparent and independent are countries’ risk assessments of health hazards? Which provisions have countries taken to account for trade effects when selecting SPS measures? Do countries give foreign interests adequate possibility to voice their concerns over proposed SPS regulation? If reviews motivate countries to improve their policy-making processes, this will contribute to making SPS regulation less trade restrictive and more effective in protecting health. To reach this objective, special trade policy reviews dedicated exclusively to SPS regulation would have to be introduced as a complement to the current reviews of countries’ overall trade policies. Such a move could serve as a model for establishing further issue-specific reviews that address technical barriers to trade, trade in services, and other complex regulatory challenges.
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