Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, also known as the SPS Agreement, 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 entered into force with the establishment of the WTO at the beginning of 1995.[1] Broadly, the sanitary and phytosanitary ('SPS') measures covered by the agreement are those aimed at the protection of human, animal or plant life or health from certain risks.[2]

Under the SPS agreement, the WTO sets constraints on member-states' policies relating to food safety (bacterial contaminants, pesticides, inspection and labelling) as well as animal and plant health (phytosanitation) with respect to imported pests and diseases. There are 3 standards organizations who set standards that WTO members should base their SPS methodologies on. As provided for in Article 3, they are the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Secretariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

The SPS agreement is closely linked to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which was signed in the same year and has similar goals. The TBT Emerged from the Tokyo Round of WTO negotiations and was negotiated with the aim of ensuring non-discrimination in the adoption and implementation of technical regulations and standards.[3]

History and framework

As GATT's preliminary focus had been lowering tariffs, the framework that preceded the SPS Agreement was not adequately equipped to deal with the problems of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade and the need for an independent agreement addressing this became critical.[4] The SPS Agreement is an ambitious attempt to deal with NTBs arising from cross-national differences in technical standards without diminishing governments prerogative to implement measures to guard against diseases and pests.[5]

Main provisions

  • Article 1 – General Provisions - Outlines the application of the Agreement.
  • Annex A.1 – Definition of SPS measures.
  • Article 2 – Basic Rights and Obligations. Article 2.2 - requires measures to be based on sufficient scientific analysis. Article 2.3 - states that Members shall ensure that their sanitary and phytosanitary measures do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between Members where identical or similar conditions prevail, including between their own territory and that of other Members. Sanitary and phytosanitary measures shall not be applied in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.
  • Article 3 – Harmonization. Article 3.1- To harmonize sanitary and phytosanitary measures on as wide a basis as possible, Members shall base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations, where they exist, except as otherwise provided for in this Agreement, and in particular in paragraph 3. Article 3.3 – allows Members to implement SPS measures higher than if they were basing them on international standards where there is a scientific justification or the Member determines the measure to be appropriate in accordance with 5.1-5.8.
  • Annex A.3 – outlines the standard-setting bodies.
  • Article 5 – Risk Assessment and Determination of the Appropriate Level of SPS Protection. Article 5.1 - Members shall ensure that their sanitary or phytosanitary measures are based on an assessment, as appropriate to the circumstances, of the risks to human, animal or plant life or health, taking into account risk assessment techniques developed by the relevant international organizations.
  • Annex A.4 – outlines risk assessment process.
  • Article 5.5 - each Member shall avoid arbitrary or unjustifiable distinctions in the levels it considers to be appropriate in different situations, if such distinctions result in discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. Article 5.7– echoes the 'Precautionary Principle' where there is no science available with which to justify a measure.[6]


Some of the most important WTO 'cases' regarding the implementation of SPS measures include:

Genetically modified organisms

In 2003, the United States challenged a number of EU laws restricting the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in a dispute known as EC-Biotech,[11] arguing they are "unjustifiable" and illegal under SPS agreement. In May 2006, the WTO's dispute resolution panel issued a complex ruling which took issue with some aspects of the EU's regulation of GMOs, but dismissed many of the claims made by the USA. A summary of the decision can be found here.

Hormone-treated beef

Another prominent SPS case is the hormone-treated beef case. In 1996, the United States and Canada challenged before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) a number of EU directives prohibiting the importation and sale of meat and meat products treated with certain growth hormones. The complainants alleged that the EU directives violated, among other things, several provisions of the SPS Agreement. The EU contended that the presence of the banned hormones in food may present a risk to consumers' health and that, as a consequence, the directives were justified under several WTO provisions authorizing the adoption of trade-restrictive measures that are necessary to protect human health. In 1997 and 1998, the WTO adjudicating bodies admitted USA and Canada claims and invited the EU to bring the directives into conformity with WTO law before end of May 1999. EU did not comply and the DSB authorized the USA and Canada to take countermeasures against the EU. The countermeasures took the form of increased custom duties applied by the USA and Canada on certain EU products, including the notorious Roquefort cheese. In 2004, while the ban on hormone-treated meat was still in place, the EU initiated before the DSB new proceedings seeking the lifting of the countermeasures applied by the USA and Canada. EU alleged that it had collected new scientific data evidencing that the banned hormones may cause harm to consumers. According to the EU, the new scientific data provides sufficient ground for the ban on hormones, which may no more be sanctioned by the countermeasures imposed by the USA and Canada. As of January 2007, the proceedings initiated by the EU were still pending.

Interaction with other World Trade Organization instruments

While Article 1.5 of the TBT precludes the inclusion of SPS measures from its ambit, in EC-Biotech, the panel recognised that situations could arise where a measure is only partly an SPS measure, and in those cases, the SPS part of the measure will be considered under the SPS Agreement.[12] If a measure conforms with SPS, under Article 2.4 of the SPS Agreement, it is assumed that the measure falls within the scope of GATT, Article XX(b).


Economic considerations. Trade in the products subject to SPS-type measures have the potential to result in significant economic gains for national economies.[13] Favouring economic concerns over other important public health policy issues, however, is something that requires close scrutiny by governments and the international community.[14]

The SPS Agreement reflects the precautionary principle – a principle which allows them to act on the side of caution if there is no scientific certainty about potential threats to human health and the environment. Under Article 5.7 Members who enact provisional measures are obligated to seek further information on possible risks and review the measure 'within a reasonable period of time'. The Appellate Body in Japan– Measures Affecting Agricultural Products, stated that the length of a 'reasonable period of time' is to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.[15] Under SPS rules, the burden of proof is on the complainant country to demonstrate that a measure violates Article 2.2 and Articles 5.1-5.8 before it can be regulated[16] even though scientific evidence can never be conclusive and it is not possible to test for all health risks that could arise from importation of a certain product.[17]

Impact on Developing Countries. It is important that the views of developing countries are incorporated into the standard-setting process as the effect of exporting countries enacting SPS measures can be damaging to developing economies. This is partly due to these states not possessing the technology and resources needed to readily comply with certain SPS requirements.[18]

Impact of Consumer Pressure on adherence to the SPS Agreement. Some commentators pose that the WTO's assumption that trade liberalisation enhances consumer welfare, has resulted in the SPS Agreement being ill-equipped to deal with trade restrictions put in place by governments responding to protectionist pressure from consumers.[19] This was most noticeable in the Beef Hormones Dispute where, although the science pointed to the relative safety of the growth hormones in question, European consumers pressured governments to ban the import of hormone-treated beef.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Timothy J. Miano, "Understanding and Applying International Infectious Disease Law: U.N. Regulations During an H5N1 Avian Flu Epidemic" 6 Chi-Kent J. Int'l & Comp. L. 26, 42-48 (2006).
  2. ^ Peter Van den Bossche and Werner Zdouc, The Law and Policy of the World Trade Organization: Text, Cases and Materials (Cambridge University Press, 2013) 834.
  3. ^ Kasturi Das, 'Coping with SPS Challenges in India: WTO and Beyond', (2008) 11(4) Journal of International Economic Law, 971-1019, 973-974, 973
  4. ^ Das, 'Coping with SPS Challenges in India: WTO and Beyond',973-974.
  5. ^ Tim Buthe, 'The globalization of health and safety standards: delegation of regulatory authority in the SPS Agreement of the 1994 agreement establishing the World Trade Organization' (2008) 71(1) Law and Contemporary Problems, 219-255
  6. ^ Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, opened for signature 15 April 1994, 1867 UNTS 3 (entered into force 1 January 1995) annex 1A ('Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures') at
  7. ^ Appellate Body Report, EC Measures Concerning Meat and Meat Products (Hormones), WTO Doc WT/DS26/AB/R, WT/DS48/AB/R, AB-1997-4 (Jan 16, 1998) at
  8. ^ Appellate Body Report, Japan – Measures Affecting Agricultural Products, WTO Doc WT/DS76/R, 61 (October 27, 1998) at
  9. ^ Appellate Body report, Australia – Measures Affecting Importation of Salmon, WTO Doc WT/DS18/R/AB (20 October 1998) at
  10. ^ Appellate Body report, Japan-Measures Affecting the Importation of Apples, WTO Doc WT/DS245/AB/R (26 November 2003) at
  11. ^ Panel Report, European Communities – Measures Affecting the Approval and Marketing of Biotech Products, WTO Doc WT/DS291, WT/DS292/R, WT/DS293/R (2006)
  12. ^ Simon Baughen, International Trade and the Protection of the Environment (Routledge-Cavendish, 2007) 53.
  13. ^ Matthew Arthur, 'An Economic Analysis of Quarantine: The Economics of Australia's Ban on New Zealand Apple Imports' (Paper presented at the New Zealand Agricultural and Resource Economics Society Conference, Nelson, August 24–25, 2006) 2
  14. ^ Markus Wagner, 'Law Talk v. Science Talk: The Languages of Law and Science in WTO Proceedings' (2011) 35 Fordham International Law Journal 151-200, 194-198
  15. ^ Appellate Body Report, Japan – Measures Affecting Agricultural Products, WTO Doc WT/DS76/R, 61 (October 27, 1998
  16. ^ Simon Baughen, International Trade and the Protection of the Environment (Routledge-Cavendish, 2007) 54
  17. ^ William Kerr and Jill Hobbs, 'Consumers, Cows and Carousels: Why the Dispute over Beef Hormones is Far More Important than its Commercial Value' in Nicholas Perdikis and Robert Read (eds), The WTO and the regulation of international trade : recent trade disputes between the European Union and the United States (Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2005) 193
  18. ^ Das, 'Coping with SPS Challenges in India: WTO and Beyond',973-974, 1006
  19. ^ Kerr and Hobbs, , 'Consumers, Cows and Carousels: Why the Dispute over Beef Hormones is Far More Important than its Commercial Value', 191-192.
  20. ^ Tracey Epps, 'Reconciling public opinion and WTO rules under the SPS Agreement' (2008) 7(2) World Trade Review, 359-392, 360

External links

Agricultural pollution

Agricultural pollution refers to biotic and abiotic byproducts of farming practices that result in contamination or degradation of the environment and surrounding ecosystems, and/or cause injury to humans and their economic interests. The pollution may come from a variety of sources, ranging from point source water pollution (from a single discharge point) to more diffuse, landscape-level causes, also known as non-point source pollution. Management practices play a crucial role in the amount and impact of these pollutants. Management techniques range from animal management and housing to the spread of pesticides and fertilizers in global agricultural practices.

Beef hormone controversy

The Beef Hormone Dispute is one of the most intractable agricultural controversies since the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO).It has sometimes been called the "beef war" in the media, similarly to the UK-EU Beef war over the mad cow disease issue, creating some confusion, since these two wars overlapped in time.

In 1989, the European Union banned the importation of meat that contained artificial beef growth hormones approved for use and administered in the United States. Originally, the ban covered six such hormones but was amended in 2003 to permanently ban one hormone —estradiol-17β — while provisionally banning the use of the five others. WTO rules permit such bans, but only where a signatory presents valid scientific evidence that the ban is a health and safety measure. Canada and the United States opposed this ban, taking the EU to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body. In 1997, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body ruled against the EU.

Canada–Australia salmon trade dispute

In the 1990s, a trade dispute over fresh salmon arose between Canada and Australia. In 1995, Canada made a complaint to the World Trade Organization, of which both countries are members, about Australia's restriction on imports of fresh salmon, which were part of a quarantine measure for health purposes.

WTO dispute resolution favored Canada, both in a 1997 panel decision and in a subsequent decision by the WTO Appellate Body. The WTO determined that the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) did not allow Australia's import ban. The WTO ordered Australia to lift its ban and increased quarantine requirements not only for salmon, but for imports of other species of fish as well. The parties settled their dispute in 2000.

Codex Alimentarius

The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to foods, food production, and food safety.

Its name is derived from the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus. Its texts are developed and maintained by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body that was established in early November 1961 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), was joined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June 1962, and held its first session in Rome in October 1963. The Commission's main goals are to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in the international food trade. The Codex Alimentarius is recognized by the World Trade Organization as an international reference point for the resolution of disputes concerning food safety and consumer protection.As of 2012, there were 186 members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission: 186 member countries and one member organization, the European Union (EU). There were 215 Codex observers: 49 intergovernmental organizations, 150 non-governmental organizations, and 16 United Nations organizations.

Equivalence (trade)

Equivalence is a term applied by the Uruguay Round Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. WTO Member countries shall accord acceptance to the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures of other countries (even if those measures differ from their own or from those used by other Member countries trading in the same product) if the exporting country demonstrates to the importing country that its measures achieve the importer’s appropriate level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection.

Forest protection

Forest protection is a branch of forestry which is concerned with the preservation or improvement of a forest and prevention and control of damage to forest by natural or man made causes.

(example - fire, animals, insect, fungi, injurious plants and adverse climatic conditions.)

This forest protection also has a legal status and rather than protection from only people damaging the forests is seen to be broader and include forest pathology too. Thus due to this the different emphases around the world paradoxically suggest different things for forest protection.

In German-speaking countries, forest protection would focus on the biotic and abiotic factors that are non-crime related. A protected forest is not the same as a protection forest. These terms can lead to some confusion in English, although they are clearer in other languages. As a result, reading English literature can be problematic for non-experts due to localization and conflation of meanings.

The types of man-induced abuse that forest protection seeks to prevent include:

Aggressive or unsustainable farming and logging

Pollution of soil on which forests grow

Expanding city development caused by population explosion and the resulting urban sprawlThere is considerable debate over the effectiveness of forest protection methods. Enforcement of laws regarding purchased forest land is weak or non-existent in most parts of the world. In the increasingly dangerous South America, home of major rainforests, officials of the Brazilian National Agency for the Environment (IBAMA) have recently been shot during their routine duties.

Index of environmental articles

The natural environment, commonly referred to simply as the environment, includes all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth.

The natural environment includes complete ecological units that function as natural systems without massive human intervention, including all vegetation, animals, microorganisms, soil, rocks, atmosphere and natural phenomena that occur within their boundaries. Also part of the natural environment is universal natural resources and physical phenomena that lack clear-cut boundaries, such as air, water, and climate.

International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is a 1951 multilateral treaty overseen by the Food and Agriculture Organization that aims to secure coordinated, effective action to prevent and to control the introduction and spread of pests of plants and plant products. The Convention extends beyond the protection of cultivated plants to the protection of natural flora and plant products. It also takes into consideration both direct and indirect damage by pests, so it includes weeds.

The Convention created a governing body consisting of each party, known as the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, which oversees the implementation of the Convention. As of August 2017, the Convention has 183 parties, which includes 180 United Nations member states, the Cook Islands, Niue, and the European Union. The Convention is recognized by the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) as the only international standard setting body for plant health.

While the IPPC's primary focus is on plants and plant products moving in international trade, the Convention also covers research materials, biological control organisms, germplasm banks, containment facilities, food aid, emergency aid and anything else that can act as a vector for the spread of plant pests – for example, containers, packaging materials, soil, vehicles, vessels and machinery.

The IPPC was created by member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The IPPC places emphasis on three core areas: international standard setting, information exchange and capacity development for the implementation of the IPPC and associated international phytosanitary standards. The Secretariat of the IPPC is housed at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, and is responsible for the coordination of core activities under the IPPC work program.

In recent years the Commission of Phytosanitary Measures of the IPPC has developed a strategic framework with the objectives of:

protecting sustainable agriculture and enhancing global food security through the prevention of pest spread;

protecting the environment, forests and biodiversity from plant pests;

facilitating economic and trade development through the promotion of harmonized scientifically based phytosanitary measures, and:

developing phytosanitary capacity for members to accomplish the preceding three objectives.By focusing the Convention's efforts on these objectives, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures of the IPPC intends to:

Protect farmers from economically devastating pest and disease outbreaks.

Protect the environment from the loss of species diversity.

Protect ecosystems from the loss of viability and function as a result of pest invasions.

Protect industries and consumers from the costs of pest control or eradication.

Facilitate trade through International Standards that regulate the safe movements of plants and plant products.

Protect livelihoods and food security by preventing the entry and spread of new pests of plants into a country.

List of multilateral free-trade agreements

This is a list of multilateral free-trade agreements, between several countries all treated equally. For agreements between two countries, between a bloc and a country, or between two blocs, see list of bilateral free-trade agreements; these are not listed below.

Every customs union, common market, economic union, customs and monetary union and economic and monetary union is also a free-trade area; these are listed on these separate articles and are not included below.

For a general explanation, see free-trade area.

Market access

Market access for goods means the conditions, free trade and fair trade barriers, set by countries for the entry of specific goods into their markets. In the WTO (World trade organisation), tariff commitments for goods are agreed upon and set out in each member's schedules of concessions on goods. The schedules represent commitments not to apply tariffs above the listed rates — these rates are “bound”. Under WTO rules, bound rates may not be raised without compensating the affected members.

Non-tariff measures (NTMs) are non-tariff policy measures that affect international trade. NTMs cover a broad range of measures both directly and indirectly related to trade, and their use has risen as tariff rates have fallen under subsequent WTO negotiation rounds. In many cases, NTMs can be classified as non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs). Some areas of NTMs are dealt with under specific WTO agreements, notably the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, the Anti-dumping agreement, the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and the Agreement on Safeguards. WTO Members seek to continually improve market access through the regular WTO work programme and through negotiations such as those launched at the Doha Ministerial Conference in November 1752.

Organic certification

Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. A lesser known counterpart is certification for organic textiles (or Organic clothing) that includes certification of textile products made from organically grown fibres.

Requirements vary from country to country (List of countries with organic agriculture regulation), and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:

avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;

avoidance of genetically modified seed;

use of farmland that has been free from prohibited chemical inputs for a number of years (often, three or more);

for livestock, adhering to specific requirements for feed, housing, and breeding;

keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);

maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;

undergoing periodic on-site inspections.In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.

Certified organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free, as certain pesticides are allowed.

Pest risk analysis

Pest risk analysis (PRA) is a form of risk analysis conducted by regulatory plant health authorities to identify the appropriate phytosanitary measures required to protect plant resources against new or emerging pests and regulated pests of plants or plant products. Specifically pest risk analysis is a term used within the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) (Article 2.1) and is defined within the glossary of phytosanitary terms. as "the process of evaluating biological or other scientific and economic evidence to determine whether an organism is a pest, whether it should be regulated, and the strength of any phytosanitary measures to be taken against it". In a phytosanitary context, the term plant pest, or simply pest, refers to any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal or pathogenic agent injurious to plants or plant products and includes plant pathogenic bacteria, fungi, fungus-like organisms, viruses and virus like organisms, as well as insects, mites, nematodes and weeds.

Plant health

Plant health is concerned with

Ecosystem health with a special focus on plants

The control of plant pests and plant pathology, e.g. by plant disease forecasting and taking necessary countermeasures

Tree health

Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) generally defines actions on issues considered to be uncertain, for instance applied in assessing risk management. The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g. taking a particular course of action) when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

In some legal systems, as in law of the European Union, the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement in some areas of law.Regarding international conduct, the first endorsement of the principle was in 1982 when the World Charter for Nature was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, while its first international implementation was in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol. Soon after, the principle integrated with many other legally binding international treaties such as the Rio Declaration and Kyoto Protocol.


Ractopamine is a feed additive, banned in most countries, to promote leanness in animals raised for their meat. Pharmacologically, it is a TAAR1 agonist and β adrenoreceptor agonist that stimulates β1 and β2 adrenergic receptors. It is the active ingredient in products known as Paylean for swine and Optaflexx for cattle, developed by Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Company, for use in food animals for growth promotion.

Ractopamine use is banned in the European Union, mainland China and Russia while 27 other countries, such as Japan, the United States,and South Korea, have deemed meat from livestock fed ractopamine safe for human consumption.Commercial ractopamine is a mixture of all four possible stereoisomers.

Risk Assessment under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the "SPS Agreement") governs rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. The SPS Agreement permits countries to implement measures provided that they are based on science, are applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal and plant life or health and do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail.

Sanitary and phytosanitary measures and agreements

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are measures to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

Uruguay Round

The Uruguay Round was the 8th round of multilateral trade negotiations (MTN) conducted within the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), spanning from 1986 to 1993 and embracing 123 countries as "contracting parties". The Round led to the creation of the World Trade Organization, with GATT remaining as an integral part of the WTO agreements. The broad mandate of the Round had been to extend GATT trade rules to areas previously exempted as too difficult to liberalize (agriculture, textiles) and increasingly important new areas previously not included (trade in services, intellectual property, investment policy trade distortions). The Round came into effect in 1995 with deadlines ending in 2000 (2004 in the case of developing country contracting parties) under the administrative direction of the newly created World Trade Organization (WTO).The Doha Development Round was the next trade round, beginning in 2001 and still unresolved after missing its official deadline of 2005.

World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization that is concerned with the regulation of international trade between nations. The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 124 nations on 15 April 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which commenced in 1948. It is the largest international economic organization in the world.The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants' adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments and ratified by their parliaments. The WTO prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals. Trade-related disputes are resolved by independent judges at the WTO through a dispute resolution process.The WTO's current Director-General is Roberto Azevêdo, who leads a staff of over 600 people in Geneva, Switzerland. A trade facilitation agreement, part of the Bali Package of decisions, was agreed by all members on 7 December 2013, the first comprehensive agreement in the organization's history. On 23 January 2017, the amendment to the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement marks the first time since the organization opened in 1995 that WTO accords have been amended, and this change should secure for developing countries a legal pathway to access affordable remedies under WTO rules.Studies show that the WTO boosted trade, and that barriers to trade would be higher in the absence of the WTO. The WTO has highly influenced the text of trade agreements, as "nearly all recent [preferential trade agreements (PTAs)] reference the WTO explicitly, often dozens of times across multiple chapters... in many of these same PTAs we find that substantial portions of treaty language—sometime the majority of a chapter—is copied verbatim from a WTO agreement."


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