The role of veterinary epidemiology and veterinary services in complying with the World Trade Organization SPS agreement.Prev Vet Med. 2005 Feb; 67(2-3):125-40.PV
The agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS agreement) was one of the major products of the GATT's Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations, signed in Marrakesh on 15 April 1994. This agreement and others are part of the treaty that established the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO superseded the GATT as the umbrella organization for international trade (WTO, 1998a). The SPS agreement's main intent is to provide guidelines and provisions to member countries to facilitate trade while taking measures to protect human, animal or plant life or health. The agreement dictates that all sanitary measures must be scientifically based and not more restrictive than required to avoid the risk identified. The agreement recommends the use of international standards from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Codex Alimentarius (CAC) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as the basis for import requirements. If a country chooses to apply more restrictive measures than those in the international standards, it has to justify its position through a risk analysis, thus avoiding the use of sanitary and phytosanitary measures as unjustified barriers to trade. More than ever, veterinary services worldwide are faced with having to fulfill a crucial role in protecting their country's animal health status, provide sound surveillance information on the occurrence of diseases within their territories, and conduct scientifically valid risk analyses to establish justified import requirements. During the past two decades, most countries have experienced resource reduction in their veterinary services. The effect of these policies has been severe, in many cases leading to an inability of veterinary services to conduct their disease prevention and control duties. There is a clear inconsistency between the demands placed on veterinary services and the current level of funding and support they are receiving, particularly in the developing world. This paper analyzes the implications in complying with the SPS agreement and explores the role of veterinary epidemiology in developing viable alternatives that can enhance the veterinary services' ability to perform under the current economic reality. The key provisions of the SPS agreement are regionalization, risk analysis, harmonization, equivalence and transparency. The paper focuses on the contribution of epidemiology in each of these areas in the effective implementation of the SPS agreement.