Pesticide MRL call to help trade at WTO conference

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: © WTO/Cuik
Photo: © WTO/Cuik

Related tags: World trade organization, International trade

A World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference failed to reach consensus on a number of issues but did put a focus on pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs).

The 11th biannual ministerial conference of WTO in Buenos Aires saw three days of negotiations between its 164 members.

The European Commission called it a ‘missed opportunity’ but Sonny Perdue, the US Secretary of Agriculture, welcomed a joint statement asking for collaboration in setting MRLs.

WTO members had previously raised trade issues on pesticides in food​ at the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS).

Illegal fishing and trade reform

Cecilia Malmström, commissioner for trade, said: "All WTO Members have to face a simple fact: we failed to achieve any of our objectives, and did not achieve any multilateral outcome. The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidising illegal fishing.

“We could and should have taken a real first step on an issue which connects the WTO with the Sustainable Development goals, fisheries subsidies. We could and should have taken long overdue steps in the direction of agricultural trade reform.

“Now, I hope that several WTO members, whose actions here in Buenos Aires prevented an outcome, will use the time following this Ministerial meeting for valuable self-reflection."

Commissioner Malmström said the conference showed deficiencies in the negotiating function of the WTO and that members are being blocked from addressing the realities of global trade. 

However, she added WTO is a global public good and the EU attaches value to it. 

“In the coming months, we will do what is necessary to support it if it comes under further pressure. We also need to intensify efforts to find solutions to important issues in the international trading system, such as on e-commerce, working with all willing WTO members in an open, inclusive and transparent manner​."

Phil Hogan, commissioner for agriculture and rural development, said from the agriculture perspective it was disappointing that a work programme could not be agreed.

“That means that important issues such as food security will not now be prioritised in the work of the WTO. This is not in the interest of farmers and rural people in the developing world, nor in the developed world for that matter.

“This is a lose-lose outcome for all involved - a negative-sum outcome. The WTO is not a zero sum game, it is a positive-sum game when everyone plays their part."

Pesticide MRLs and trade

A number of countries urged pesticide MRLs to be based on science at the WTO Conference.

The WTO SPS Committee is looking at pesticide-related issues that have an adverse impact on international trade in food and agricultural products.

Perdue said the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) supported the joint statement. 

“The 17 signatory countries have come together to recognize that farmers worldwide must be able to access the full range of available tools and technologies in order to remain productive and competitive. But too often, that access is hampered by non-scientific regulatory barriers.

“The development of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) that are grounded in science is critical to protecting human and environmental health, facilitating trade and enabling agricultural producers to meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population.

“We look forward to continued collaboration with the WTO SPS Committee, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and other partners to establish international residue standards that enable the safe use of pesticides and, at the same time, facilitate trade in food and agricultural products.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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