STC Number - 85

Import restrictions on prawns and prawn products; revised generic IRA for prawns and prawn products

Maintained by: Australia
Raised by: China; Thailand
Supported by: European Union; Indonesia; Malaysia; Philippines; Sri Lanka; Viet Nam
First date raised: March 2001 G/SPS/R/21 paras. 84-85
Dates subsequently raised: October 2001 (G/SPS/R/25 paras. 109-111)
March 2002 (G/SPS/R/26 para. 137)
June 2002 (G/SPS/R/27 paras. 138-139)
November 2002 (G/SPS/R/28 paras. 193-194)
April 2003 (G/SPS/R/29 paras. 58-59)
June 2003 (G/SPS/R/30 paras. 52-53)
February 2007 (G/SPS/R/44 paras. 56-60 )
June 2007 (G/SPS/R/45 paras. 33-37)
October 2007 (G/SPS/R/46 paras. 24-26)
Number of times subsequently raised: 9
Relevant documents: G/SPS/N/AUS/124 G/SPS/N/AUS/126 G/SPS/N/AUS/204and Add.1, G/SPS/GEN/791
Products covered: 030613 -- Shrimps and prawns
Primary subject keyword: Animal Health
Keywords: Animal health; Equivalence; Risk assessment; Sufficiency of scientific evidence
Status: Partially resolved
Solution: Partial resolution applies only to China.
Date reported as resolved: 16/10/2013

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In March 2001, Thailand, on behalf of ASEAN, drew attention to Australia's notifications regarding its risk analysis and interim measure on prawn and prawn products, which required risk management measures for White Spot Syndrome and Yellow Head Virus. Prior to the deadline for comments, Australia had imposed an interim measure on imports of uncooked prawn and prawn products from ASEAN countries, which was based on the fact that the imported prawn might illegally be used as fishing bait. ASEAN objected to the inclusion of illegal domestic practices as a major element in risk analysis. Thailand urged Australia to lift this interim measure, which was more restrictive than necessary and inconsistent with Article 5. Australia explained that the measures were the result of an outbreak of exotic White Spot Virus disease. Investigations had revealed that far more imported prawns were being used for bait than had been previously thought, and a 15 g cut-off point was introduced. The additional measures applied only to whole green and unpeeled headless green prawns from areas not free of White Spot Disease. The risk analysis was progressing and comments would be taken into account.
In October 2001, Thailand again expressed serious concern about the inclusion of Australia's domestic enforcement practices as a major element in Australia's risk analysis. Thailand urged Australia to lift the interim measures taken on the basis of this risk analysis, as ASEAN believed the measures were not based on scientific evidence and were more trade restrictive than necessary. Australia believed its measures to be scientifically valid. The risk analysis was continuing and would result in final measures. An application for equivalence for highly processed prawn products was being examined and, if approved, would result in less trade restrictive measures.
In March 2002, Thailand sought information regarding the status of Australia's risk analysis, noting that the original date for conclusion of the risk assessment had been June 2001. Australia replied that work on the risk analysis was continuing, and all stakeholders would be informed of the current status by letter. In response to requests from importers, Biosecurity Australia was conducting an equivalence assessment to determine if there were less trade restrictive alternative measures which could be applied to highly processed prawn products.
In June 2002, Thailand requested information on the period of application of the interim measure related to White Spot syndrome and its scientific basis. Malaysia and the Philippines expressed interest in this issue. Australia replied that a report had been published on progress made, including a summary of a meeting with stakeholders. The next meeting of the risk analysis panel considering the issue was scheduled for late July 2002, after which a draft risk analysis report would be issued. The scientific concerns on White Spot syndrome which had led to the interim measure remained. Australia had completed an equivalence assessment, and on 25 June 2002 implemented changes in the requirements for highly processed prawn products.
In November 2002, Thailand expressed concerns over the continuation of the interim measure imposed by Australia and urged Australia to complete the risk analysis and abolish the measure as soon as possible. The Philippines, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, supported the concerns expressed by Thailand and noted their interest in monitoring the issue. Australia reported that the next step of the Australian IRA would be the release of a revised draft import risk analysis report. In the meantime, the interim measures from June 2002, including the amended conditions, would continue. The interim measure was science-based, temporary and applied only to a small proportion of prawn exports to Australia from Thailand and other countries. Experts from the aquatic animal biosecurity team had recently visited Thailand to work out a cooperative technical assistance programme exploiting the feasibility of alternate measures, including area disease freedom, which might enhance prospects for trade in the prawn products of concern.
In April 2003, Thailand observed that interim measures against the import of uncooked prawns and prawn products from ASEAN countries had been in place for over two years and there was no legitimate reason for the continuation of these emergency measures. Australia stressed that the measures were limited to high risk products - uncooked prawns - that accounted for only 5% of the prawn products exported to Australia from Thailand. Tests had indicated the positive presence of White Spot Virus in Thai uncooked prawn products shipped to Australia. The disease was exotic to Australia. Biosecurity Australia had commissioned a study on bait use which provided clear support for the measures taken. Australia was committed to finalizing the IRA as soon as possible and was also working on technical assistance projects for alternative biosecurity measures for prawns, including aquatic disease zoning methodologies.
In June 2003, Thailand reported that the interim measure was still in place and it appeared unlikely that the import risk analysis would be concluded within a short period of time. Australia reported that it was making good progress in its import risk analysis and a revised draft report was underway. The analysis was very complex and characterized by a lack of information as Thailand had not provided new information on White Spot Syndrome Virus.
In February 2007, Thailand again expressed serious concerns about the revised draft generic import analysis report on prawns and prawn products as notified by Australia. The proposed changes would have serious implications for the export of these products. Thailand had submitted its comments in response to the Australian notification and was in particular concerned that there was no scientific justification for the proposed quarantine measures. The analytical methods employed suffered from a lack of empirical data, and the conclusions were not based on scientific data but tailored to fit the views of policymakers. Thailand considered that these measures were unnecessary and would create trade obstacles for its exports.
Thailand recalled that a first draft IRA had been notified by Australia in November 2000 (G/SPS/N/AUS/124). Shortly after, however, Australia had imposed interim measures in response to an outbreak of exotic White Spot Syndrome Virus and Yellow Head Virus. The interim measures notified in February 2001 imposed restrictions on foreign exporters because of problem related to enforcement of Australia's domestic legislation. Thailand was concerned that the most recent draft report would result in another prolongation of unnecessarily stringent interim measures, without sufficient scientific evidence. This more than 6-year delay in completing the IRA was an undue delay. If the measure were indeed a provisional measure, it should have been reviewed within a reasonable time, and the nature of the emergency requiring the imposition of urgent measures should have been described. Thailand requested that the interim measure be revoked, and that a new draft IRA be concluded within a reasonable period of time, fully taking into account Thailand's comments and suggested alternative measures to mitigate the risks.
China shared the concerns expressed by Thailand and considered that the proposed measures were more strict than necessary. For example, the measure permitted imports only from regions free from certain diseases, but those same prawn diseases existed also in Australia. Australia had imported prawns from Asia for ten years with no evidence that the disease had been spread through trade. This could not be justified as an emergency situation. Furthermore, there was no justification for requiring the removal of shells, as there was no scientific evidence that they carried diseases. This was an extra burden on exporters and not consistent with the practice of selling the product domestically with shells. The proposed measure would require the testing of all imports for three diseases, although they posed no risk to human health and there was little risk of the prawns being thrown into Australian waters. Finally, China considered the requirement that imported prawns must be heated to 85 degrees would reduce marketability and that alternatives should be provided. The proposed measures did not have a scientific justification and would cause unnecessary obstacles to trade.
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka indicated that they shared the concerns of Thailand and China.
Australia responded that the revised draft IRA had been issued in November 2006, with a 90-day comment period (closing in February 2007) which had allowed all stakeholders an extended opportunity to provide their views. The IRA team was now considering the comments received. The draft IRA reflected a comprehensive review of the current science, and had concluded that there was a need to strengthen import measures through stricter controls, but a final decision about the necessary measures had not yet been made. Australia firmly rejected any suggestion that the revised draft IRA had relied on subjective assessments or that its findings had been pre-determined. After the IRA team had considered all stakeholders comments, the revised draft IRA would be considered by an eminent scientists group, and the IRA team would issue the final IRA report.
In June 2007, Thailand expressed serious concerns about Australia's revised IRA process, which was long and unpredictable. Almost a decade had passed since the first import risk analysis had been undertaken by Australia on prawns. The import risk analysis continued, with no conclusion in sight. In the meantime, Australia had indicated that it would apply stricter measures on imports. This raised concerns that the scientific information submitted to Australia was not being taken into account. Australia was requested to keep the Committee informed of its process, and the expected timeline, as well as to report on how the information submitted by Thailand and other trading partners was taken into account.
China recalled the concerns they had raised at the previous meeting and maintained that Australia's requirements were too stringent, unnecessary, and without scientific. basis. China had submitted comments, but received no response; it would appreciate information on how its comments had been taken into account by Australia.
Viet Nam stressed the importance of the prawn industry to his country and the serious consequences of the measures imposed by Australia. To date, there were no reports of any disease outbreaks related to Vietnamese prawn exports. His authorities had carefully studied Australia's draft risk analysis. Of the five diseases identified to be of concern in the IRA, three were not known to occur in Viet Nam. The other two diseases were widespread in South East Asia, yet had never been introduced into Australia despite years of prawn imports without the current quarantine restrictions. The risk management measures proposed in the draft IRA lacked scientific justification and would present a serious barrier to trade. The details of the statement by Viet Nam are in document G/SPS/GEN/791.
The Philippines and Indonesia indicated that they shared the concerns of Thailand and China, and urged the Australian authorities to consider the comments submitted in a balanced and speedy manner, and provide responses to trading partners.
Australia drew attention to the public consultation period which had closed on 21 February 2007. Australia had reviewed the large number of submissions received. All submissions were available from Biosecurity Australia's website. Australia had provided the opportunity for all stakeholders to put forward new scientific information that may not have been considered before the implementation of the revised interim measures. Further consideration was required before the Director of Quarantine determined whether the interim measures needed to be strengthened to achieve Australia's appropriate level of protection (ALOP). The IRA would then be finalized using the established process, including review by the Eminent Scientists' Group, and a limited possibility for appeal of their decision. Further information on this matter would be available within the next few weeks.
In October 2007, Thailand informed the Committee of the current situation regarding Australia's interim measures on the importation of prawn and prawn products that came into force on 30 September 2007. Thailand and Australia had been undertaking technical discussions within the ASEAN SPS expert group and through bilateral trade negotiations. Some progress had been made on important issues but there were further issues remaining to be discussed. Thailand hoped to find a mutually acceptable solution on the prawn issue in the near future.
China noted that it shared the concerns expressed by Thailand regarding the restrictions on these products. China requested to be kept informed of the progress these two countries made bilaterally.
Australia responded that Australia's revised interim quarantine measures for prawns and prawn products had become effective on 1 October 2007 and it had been notified as an addendum to the notification on the release of the revised draft Import Risk Analysis (IRA) report in November 2006 (G/SPS/N/AUS/204/Add.1). In addition, Australia's trading partners as well as existing import permit holders were contacted in advance to inform them of the implementation of the measures. The revised interim measures followed a very detailed scientific risk analysis conducted by Biosecurity Australia and were deemed necessary to achieve an appropriate level of protection. More than 50 submissions were carefully considered and a number of technical issues had required discussion with some of the stakeholders. On 20 September 2007, Australia had accepted Thailand's proposal on alternative cooking parameters for prawns. Australia was willing to consider similar proposals from other exporting countries as well as to discuss equivalent measures such as zoning and compartmentalization.