Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme
Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection
and Certification Systems
Comments of the
International Association of Consumer Food Organizations
Proposed Draft Guidelines on the Judgement of Equivalence of
Sanitary Measures Associated with Food Inspection and Certification Systems (At Step 3)
The International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO) wishes to make
the following comments on the Proposed Draft Guidelines On The Judgement of Equivalence of
Sanitary Measures Associated With Food Inspection And Certification Systems (hereinafter
"draft guidelines"), prepared by New Zealand with the assistance of Argentina, Australia,
Canada, France, Japan, the United States, and the European Union.
The proposed draft guidelines fail to ensure that equivalency agreements will not result in
a lowering of public health standards in order to facilitate trade. We urge the Codex Committee
on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (hereinafter "the committee") to
make the following amendments to the draft guidelines in order to correct this problem. Such
changes will be necessary to prevent equivalency agreements from undermining public
confidence in the safety of imported foods and from diminishing public support for liberalization
of policies regarding the international food trade.
In the first sentence of paragraph 4, change "human health" to "human life or health."
This change makes the scope of the draft guidelines consistent with the scope of the SPS
In the definition of Sanitary measure in paragraph 5, change the phrase "protect human
health" to "protect human life or health." Again, this change is necessary to make the definition
consistent with the language of the SPS Agreement.
In the definition of "Risk management" in paragraph 5, change the phrase "in
consultation with all interested parties" to "in consultation with non-governmental
organizations, and other members of the public." This change will make it clear that the
consultation is not merely between governments.
In the definition of "Appropriate level of protection" in paragraph 5, change "human
health" to "human life or health." This change will make this definition consistent with Annex
A of the SPS Agreement.
In the definition of Equivalence in paragraph 5, remove the brackets around "as
demonstrated by the exporting country." This is an essential change that is necessary to make
this definition consistent with Article 4 of the SPS Agreement, which squarely places this
responsibility on the exporting country.
Paragraph 7(a) should be amended to include the state of the transportation infrastructure
in an exporting country. The following specific language should be added immediately before
the end of that section, "and transportation infrastructure;"
Section 10.11 of the draft guidelines fails to specify the means by which transparency can
be assured in the equivalency judgement process. To correct this problem, we urge that the
following sentence be added to the end of section 10.11:
"The exporting country must provide the importing country and other interested non-governmental parties access to adequate information about its regulatory activities in order to
facilitate an initial determination of equivalence and verification of an ongoing equivalency
We urge that a new section 10.12 be added to the draft guidelines specifying mechanisms
that can be used to verify equivalency determinations. After an equivalency agreement is
reached, on-going verification is essential to ensure that the exporting country continues to
administer and enforce the sanitary measures that were found to be equivalent. We thus urge that
a new paragraph 10.12 be added to section 10 as follows:
"10.12 All judgements of equivalence must specify mechanisms by which the importing
country can verify that the exporting country continues to administer and enforce the sanitary
measures that form the basis of such agreement. Such measures may include, but are not limited
to, on-site audits and evaluation of the exporting countrys facilities, end product testing,
periodic reviews, and if necessary, re-negotiation of the agreement."
In addition, all equivalency agreements should contain an expiration date no more than
five years following the establishment of the agreement. This requirement will compel
governments to periodically review and update agreements to take account of changes in
infrastructure, regulatory procedures, and other matters that may affect the original determination
of equivalency. We specifically recommend that a new paragraph 10.13 be added to section 10
-- General Principles for Determination [demonstration] of Equivalence as follows:
"10.13 All equivalency agreements should contain an expiration date no more than five
years from the date of the initial determination of equivalency."
Paragraph 16.8 should be deleted. Despite the draft guidelines recognition of an
importing countrys right to make its own equivalency determination, this paragraph undercuts
that fundamental right by providing that "any bilateral differences of opinion" can be resolved by
using "an agreed upon mechanism to reach consensus." Because a finding of equivalence should
be based on the importing countrys judgement -- not on the judgment of an outside committee
of experts -- we believe this paragraph should be deleted. If this paragraph is not deleted, a
sentence should be added at the end to clarify that "an importing country has an absolute right to
determine whether the exporting countrys sanitary measures are equivalent to its own."
Paragraph 17 fails to ensure than equivalency determinations are made in an open and
transparent manner that will build public confidence in the safety of imported foods. The
paragraph should be re-worded as follows:
"17. Judgement of equivalency by the importing country should be based on an analytical
process that is objective, consistent and transparent. Governments should receive input from all
interested non-governmental parties at both the initial stages of the development of an
equivalency agreement and again before a final determination is made. The final determination
should take into account comments received from interested non-governmental parties and when
announced, should contain an explanation of why the responsible national authority accepted or
rejected the comments from interested non-governmental authorities. Failure to comply with this
provision shall constitute adequate grounds for denying a determination of equivalency."
Paragraph 21 of the draft guideline fails to adequately account for the impact that
environmental, climatic and other factors may have on an exporting countrys sanitary measures.
Thus, the following sentence should be added at the end of the Paragraph:
" - the impact that climatic, environmental, labor relations and other relevant factors may have
on the adequacy of an exporting countrys sanitary measures."
IACFO believes that these changes will help address criticisms of the equivalency process
and ensure that equivalency agreements protect public health while facilitating trade. We urge
the committee to consider them fully.