A well-guided effort is underway to seek the revocation of the inconsistent trade measures imposed by WTO at the next meeting of the World Trade Organisation - Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee (7th - 11th November 2022).
At issue is the validity of the European Union import tolerance Maximum Residue Level (MRL) of 0.01 ppm (parts per million) for the majority of pesticides. This equals 1 gram of pesticide residue for every 100 tons of food commodity. At this trace level, a pesticide residue would not be biologically, toxicologically, or environmentally relevant. These trade measures could adversely affect agricultural exports from India and other developing countries to EU.
The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) enforced since 1st Jan 1995 with the establishment of World Trade Organization (WTO) carries strict science-based rules for applying the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for pesticides. MRL is the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in agricultural commodity when traded.
S. Ganesan, advisor to CENTEGRO (A Not for Profit Think-Tank focused on improving farm economy) asserted: "As per the EU Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 on Maximum Residue Levels of Pesticides, when a pesticide is not approved for use in the EU and /or withdrawn from the EU market, a default value of 0.01 ppm is set as import tolerance MRL. According to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA - 2021), MRLs are set for more than 1300 pesticides. Of this, a default MRL of 0.01 ppm applies to as many as 690 pesticides. In other words, for over 50% of the pesticides the EU applies 0.01 ppm as import tolerance MRL. This is as good as zero tolerance".
"Rejections of exported consignments applying the WTO inconsistent MRL of 0.01 ppm have serious consequences on agricultural production, price and farmers income not only in India but also in other developing countries. The use of pesticide widely varies among countries depending upon the climate, crops grown and prevalence of pests and diseases," Ganesan further added.
The WTO-SPS Agreement stipulates that WTO members should minimize negative trade effects. The current EU MRL of 0.01 ppm is completely inconsistent with the provisions of the WTO SPS Agreement and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). These measures could be the disguised restriction on international trade as it would not stand WTO scrutiny. All countries that export to the EU and other stakeholders must work together to persuade the EU to reconsider the import tolerance MRL of 0.01 ppm at the WTO under the relevant provisions of SPS Agreement and the GATT. The withdrawal of the WTO inconsistent SPS measure of 0.01 ppm MRL by the EU would go a long way in enabling developing and even third world countries to export their agri products.