The agreement on the application of health and plant health measures, also known as the SPS agreement or simply SPS, is an international treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and came into force with the creation of the WTO in early 1995.  Overall, the health and plant health measures (“SPS”) covered by the agreement are those aimed at protecting life, the animal or the plant or human or plant health from certain risks.  While the SPS agreement allows governments to maintain adequate health and plant health protection, it reduces the potential arbitrariness of decisions and promotes consistent decision-making. It requires that sanitary and plant health measures be applied for purposes other than ensuring food security and animal and plant health. In particular, the agreement clarifies the factors to be taken into account when assessing risk risk. Measures to ensure food security and the protection of animal and plant health should, where possible, be based on the analysis and evaluation of objective and accurate scientific data. All governments of WTO member states must have an investigative body, an office to counter and respond to requests for information on the health and plant health measures of these countries. These requests may be copies of new or existing regulations, information on relevant agreements between two countries, or information on risk assessment decisions. The addresses of the application points can be found here.
The decision to start the Uruguay Round trade negotiations was taken after years of public debate, including within national governments. The decision to negotiate an agreement on the application of sanitary and plant health measures was taken in 1986 at the beginning of the cycle. The SPS negotiations were opened to the 124 governments that participated in the Uruguay Round. Many governments were represented by their food safety or animal health officers. Negotiators also drew on the expertise of international technical organizations such as FAO, the code and the OIE. Health and plant health measures can, by their very nature, lead to trade restrictions. All governments accept that certain trade restrictions may be necessary to ensure food security and the protection of animal and plant health. However, there is sometimes pressure on governments to go beyond what is necessary to protect health and to use health and plant health restrictions to protect local producers from economic competition. This pressure is expected to increase as the Uruguay Round agreements remove new trade barriers.
A health or plant health restriction, which is not really necessary for health reasons, can be a very effective protectionist device and, because of its technical complexity, constitute a particularly misleading and difficult obstacle. Measures relating to environmental protection (with the exception of those mentioned above), consumer protection or animal welfare are not covered by the SPS agreement. However, these concerns are addressed by other WTO agreements (i.e. the OBT agreement or Article XX of the 1994 GATT). Given the diversity of climatic conditions, pests or existing diseases or food safety conditions, it is not always appropriate to impose the same requirements on food, animal or plant products in different countries in terms of plant hygiene and protection. As a result, sanitary and plant health measures sometimes vary depending on the country of origin of the food, animal or plant product concerned.