As Covid-19 takes shape, continues ravaging the world and putting the already strained global health system in further trouble, it is important to remember that that there are still movements in the international trading scene. There have been reports of countries stock piling and restricting export of essential commodities. At the multilateral trading system level there are several WTO agreements that provide conditions for these trade related measures. In fact, there is a strict reporting system whereby before a country takes a measure they are supposed to notify the WTO. The last few days have therefore seen several notifications made by WTO members. This writeup will provide an overview of the notifications, their implications. There are the measures whose notifications WTO has received as at 26th March 2020. https://www.wto.org
Notifications Made Under Agreement on Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS)
Russian Federation imposes a Temporary Restriction of imports of Exotic and decorative animals, including insects, arthropods, amphibians, reptiles and other, live fish and hydrobionts from China.
This notification was made by Russia on 3rd February, 2020. The background is simply that the deadly Coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan , China. Russia was therefore motivated by the need to protect the spread of the disease which is alleged to have originated from wild animals.
Move has a basis in SPS Agreement
In the notification Objective and rationale Russia indicated food safety, animal health, plant protection, protect humans from animal/plant pest or disease, protect territory from other damage from pests.
Under WTO’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) , there are measures that are meant to minimize the negative impacts of trade. Under Article 2 of the Agreement SPS measures are to be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, is based on scientific principles and is not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence. The restriction by Russia is therefore the reasoning for Russia’s move. The notification is expected courtesy of Article 7 of SPS which is to the effect that; “ Members shall notify changes in their sanitary or phytosanitary measures and shall provide information on their sanitary or phytosanitary measures in accordance with the provisions of Annex B.”
Kazakhstan restricts importation of fish from China
On 26th February 2020 Kazakhstan notified WTO of its intention to impose temporary restrictions on the importation and transit through the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan of live fish and fish products from China. Again, this was based on the Covid-19 breakout in China.
The notification describes the notification as meant to “ to protect public health from diseases, as well as ensuring veterinary and sanitary safety, since 29 January 2020 temporary restrictions have been introduced on the importation and transit through the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan of live fish and fish products from China”. The rationale for the restriction in this case is the same as the Russian case, that is protection of human, animal or plant life or health as envisaged in Article 5 of the SPS Agreement.
Indonesia made a decision regarding importation of pets and mammals from China
Indonesia’s notification dated 20th March, 2020 , that any importation and/or movement of mammals and pets from Hong Kong, China must be accompanied with Laboratory test result for COVID-19. Again, the reasoning , backed by the SPS Agreement was to address the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and anticipating for carriers that can carry coronavirus.
Mauritius has restricted the importation of live animals from China and neighbouring countries
By The notification dated 23rd February, Mauritius imposed a temporary restriction on imports of live animals, including fish from People’s Republic of China, Italy, Iran ,South Korea, Switzerland, Reunion Island and European Union Countries.
Notifications Made under the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT) The TBT Agreement aims to ensure smooth flow of trade by ensuring that ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The aim is therefore to encouraged members to use.