The EU has brushed aside charges made by countries including India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against its extremely low maximum residue level (MRL) limits for pesticides in food products. The low MRL limits are alleged to create non-tariff barriers for exports.
In a recent review meeting of its trade policy at the WTO, Brussels argued that all its measures are aligned with agreed international standards and based on science. But it also gave an assurance that it is proactively working with developing countries to address their issues, an official familiar with the proceedings told BusinessLine.
New Delhi has raised concern over the EU’s practice of setting MRL limits to default (extremely low) levels, which it says creates major barriers for the exports of rice, peanuts, chillies, spices, tea, fruits (like grapes), vegetables and sea food. Most of these exported items do not find a market in EU countries as it is not possible to meet the (low) default level for pesticides, said India.
Canada, too, said the EU should implement its sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures in a way that does not unjustifiably restrict international trade.
Call for change
India, in its statement, had called for changes in the MRL limits. “We urge the EU to reduce and eliminate these non-tariff barriers, including by ensuring that sanitary and phytosanitary measures follow the objective criteria of scientific assessments of risk, as required under the WTO SPS Agreement,” it said.
The EU is the second biggest importer of agricultural products in the world and has a legislative regime that is transparent, predictable, based on international standards and the best available science, its representative to the WTO asserted.
“Our MRLs are systematically reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority and the outcomes of these risk assessments as well as a calendar of upcoming meetings are publicly available on their website,” the EU’s representative said in a statement at the meeting.
High level of alignment
The EU statement further asserted that the alignment level of the EU to the Codex MRLs (globally accepted norms) has been more than 70 per cent in the last seven years which, it added, was one of the highest levels of alignment anywhere.
The bloc pointed out that WTO rules allow it to deviate from international standards if a health concern is raised by the risk assessment body. “The transition periods provided are in line with the SPS Agreement, which stipulates six months. In practice, recent concrete cases show that at least two years elapse between our first notification and the application of the measure,” it said.
It further said it is willing to listen to its partners’ concerns. “We are aware of the problems that some measures may pose for operators in developing countries and we are proactively working to help address their concerns,” it said.