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.

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.

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