Journal Article

The Purpose of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS)

Boris Rigod

in European Journal of International Law

Published on behalf of The EJIL

Volume 24, issue 2, pages 503-532
Published in print May 2013 | ISSN: 0938-5428
Published online June 2013 | e-ISSN: 1464-3596 | DOI:
The Purpose of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS)

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Among the WTO Agreements, the SPS Agreement provides for the strictest rules on domestic regulatory measures. Governments adopting measures to protect human, animal, and plant life and health have to comply with a plethora of obligations, exceeding the disciplines contained in the GATT and the TBT. Except for cases where scientific evidence is not available, they have to base regulatory measures on a scientific risk assessment, be it their own or one conducted by a third party. Given, on the one hand, the sensitivity of health and environmental concerns and, on the other, the constraints the treaty imposes on governments’ ability to address them, the SPS Agreement has been widely criticized for undermining democratic self-government and also for introducing elements of ‘post-discrimination’ into the world trade order. This article delves into the question whether the criticism is justified. To that end, it examines the purpose of the SPS Agreement on the basis of economic theory and the negotiating history. It shows that much of the criticism is exaggerated and that the SPS Agreement serves, as does every other WTO Agreement (except for the TRIPs), a single purpose: the preservation of market access commitments. This insight has wider implications, as it suggests that the ‘correct’ application of the SPS should in fact lead neither to an (improper) impediment to democracy nor to a ‘post- discriminatory’ trade regime.

Journal Article.  15071 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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