Agricultural Exports

U.S. Needs a More Integrated Approach to Address Sanitary/Phytosanitary Issues Gao ID: NSIAD-98-32 December 11, 1997

Despite growing concern that measures imposed by foreign countries to protect against food-borne pests and diseases may unfairly restrict U.S. agricultural exports and conflict with international trade rules, the federal government seems ill-prepared to deal with this issue, lacking basic information on the nature and the extent of the problem. Moreover, responsibility for addressing foreign sanitary or phytosanitary measures is fragmented among at least a dozen federal trade, regulatory, and research entities. No single entity is directing and coordinating overall federal efforts. GAO concludes that a more organized, integrated, strategic approach with unified and clearly defined objectives would be helpful.

GAO noted that: (1) despite growing concerns that certain foreign sanitary or phytosanitary measures may be inconsistent with World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions and may unfairly impede the flow of agricultural trade, the U.S. government is not well positioned to address this issue; (2) agricultural trade associations and key government officials have identified such measures as an increasingly important issue in agricultural trade; (3) however, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have had difficulty defining the nature and scope of the problem that foreign sanitary and phytosanitary measures present for U.S. exports, partly because of the complex nature of the issue but for other reasons as well; (4) the available data indicate that foreign sanitary and phytosanitary measures affect the exports of a broad range of commodities, result in a variety of trade effects, and may create additional costs for the U.S. industry and government; (5) the U.S. government approach for addressing foreign sanitary and phytosanitary measures has been evolving in the 2 years since WTO provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary measures took effect; (6) however, the current approach exhibits certain weaknesses; (7) the federal structure for addressing foreign sanitary and phytosanitary measures is complex; (8) at least 12 federal trade, regulatory, and research entities have some responsibility for addressing such measures, but no one entity is directing and coordinating overall federal efforts; (9) some entities' roles and responsibilities for addressing such measures are not clearly defined, and these entities have had difficulty coordinating their activities; (10) federal entities lack comprehensive data on which sanitary and phytosanitary measures are being addressed or what progress has been made to address them; (11) they have not developed a process to jointly evaluate measures and determine which ones the government should address, and in what order; (12) once the government decides to challenge a measure, multiple entities with conflicting viewpoints have made it difficult to develop a unified approach to address measures and decide which cases should be referred to WTO for dispute resolution; and (13) coordinated goals, objectives, and performance measures related to federal efforts to address SPS measures do not yet exist.


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