STC Number - 278

Hygiene standard for distilled spirits and integrated alcoholic beverages

Maintained by: China
Raised by: Mexico
Supported by: European Union; Paraguay; United States of America
First date raised: February 2009 G/SPS/R/54, paras. 8-9
Dates subsequently raised: June 2009 (G/SPS/R/55, paras. 41-42)
October 2009 (G/SPS/R/56, paras. 33-34)
October 2011 (G/SPS/R/64, para. 195)
March 2012 (G/SPS/R/66, paras. 53-55)
March 2013 (G/SPS/R/70, paras. 3.27-3.30)
Number of times subsequently raised: 5
Relevant documents: G/SPS/N/CHN/111"+OR+"G/SPS/N/CHN/111*"' target='_blank'>G/SPS/N/CHN/111, G/SPS/N/CHN/111/Suppl.1, G/SPS/N/CHN/377
Products covered: 22 Beverages, spirits and vinegar
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; Members' Regulatory information
Status: Not reported
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In February 2009, Mexico indicated that China's notified regulation (G/SPS/N/CHN/111) classified alcoholic beverages in three categories: distilled cereal spirits, distilled fruit spirits and other distilled spirits, establishing maximum levels of methanol of 0.6, 8.0 and 0.6 grams per litre, respectively. Since tequila was made from agave, it was to be classified in the "other distilled spirits" category. As such it would not have access to the Chinese market, since according to the relevant Mexican standard, tequila contained up to 3 grams of alcohol per litre. In 2001, in the context of China's WTO accession, Mexico and China had signed a Memorandum of Understanding through which China had recognized that tequila was a product originating in Mexico, produced according to Mexican standards and regulations. Mexico requested that China modify its draft measure, taking into account the special raw material from which tequila was made, and giving tequila the same treatment as distilled fruit spirits. Mexico's tequila producers had sent comments to this effect to China's Enquiry Point, and the Mexican Government would shortly be submitting comments as well. Mexico thanked China for a bilateral meeting on this subject and looked forward to finding a mutually acceptable solution.
China encouraged Mexico to submit comments to China's Enquiry Point. Comments received during the comment period would be taken into account. China, of course, was allowed to take measures necessary to protect health.
In June 2009, Mexico recalled its concern with China's regulation for alcoholic beverages regarding maximum quantities of methanol. Mexico had provided its comments during the specified period, and hoped that these would be taken into account.
China clarified that the national standards were applied to all distilled and alcoholic beverages equally and were not aimed specifically at tequila. A written reply to Mexico's comments had been provided, and China hoped a mutually satisfactory solution would be found through the on-going technical discussions.
In October 2009, Mexico stated that the Federal Commission for Prevention of Sanitary Risks of the Ministry of Health, as well as the national tequila industry, had submitted comments on China's standard in September 2009. In addition, a risk analysis had been submitted on the content of methanol in tequila. Bilateral meetings had taken place on the margins of the SPS Committee meeting and useful information had been obtained for the review of the standard. Mexico reiterated its commitment to work jointly with China on the issue.
China confirmed the reception of comments and supporting materials from Mexico. China was aware of the particularity of the processing techniques of tequila. Chinese experts were currently reviewing comments from different stakeholders, and the comments and suggestions from Mexico would be taken into consideration in the review of the standard.
In October 2011, Mexico again expressed concerns on China's hygienic standard for distilled spirits and integrated alcoholic beverages, in particular the maximum established level for methanol in distilled beverages and the classification of tequila. Mexico had raised this issue in several bilateral meetings, submitted relevant scientific information to assist Chinese officials understand the unique features of tequila, and had also submitted a bibliographic analysis on the presence of methanol in distilled alcoholic beverages and its relation to consumer health. The private sector had also sent comments to the Chinese authorities. Mexico pointed out that certain alcoholic beverages with methanol levels higher than tequila, such as fruit marc spirits, were produced and sold internationally without any reported negative health effects, and that tequila's maximum methanol content of three grams per litre was inherent to the product, not related to poor quality or processing. Mexico concluded that China's proposed maximum limit on methanol could be at odds with existing scientific evidence and, as such, unjustified. China indicated that it would carefully review the information from Mexico.
In March 2012, Mexico recalled that it had first raised its concerns regarding the maximum level established for methanol on alcoholic beverages and the lack of nomenclature classification that could cover tequila in China's hygiene standard for distilled spirits and integrated alcoholic beverages in February 2009. Mexico had held various bilateral meetings to discuss this issue, and in September 2011 had submitted comments on China's notification G/SPS/N/CHN/377. Mexico requested that the Chinese requirement be modified to reflect the maximum level of methanol permitted under the Mexican Standard for Tequila, 3.0 g/l ethanol 100 AA. This would allow tequila and other beverages produced from agave to access the Chinese market. Studies confirmed that the methanol limits proposed by Mexico did not pose a health risk.
The United States supported the concerns raised by Mexico, and requested China to provide a risk assessment to justify the measure, as well as an explanation of the regulation and the expected date of entry into force. The United States also asked China to provide a one year transition period for companies to comply with the regulation once China had provided its risk assessment and had notified the final measure to the WTO. The European Union echoed these concerns, and noted that the measure created unnecessary barriers to trade, and was not based on science.
China observed that bilateral meetings had taken place with Mexico and noted that the standard was based on Chinese consumption habits. China would take Members' comments into consideration and keep them informed.
In March 2013, Mexico reiterated its concern regarding the Chinese Hygiene Norm GB 2757-2012 that established maximum levels for methanol in spirits and alcoholic beverages. Since Mexico had first raised this concern in 2009, it had held various bilateral meetings with China. In July 2010, Chinese authorities inspected the production of tequila in Mexico and in 2011, Mexico provided a bibliographic analysis on methanol in alcoholic beverages and its effect on consumers' health. Nevertheless, in September 2012 China adopted the technical Regulation GB2757-2012 imposing a limit of 2.0g/l methanol in alcoholic beverages. This limit excluded several fruit distillates and spirits derived from grapes, as well as tequila 100% agave, from the Chinese market. Mexico considered that this measure was not in compliance with Articles 2.2, 5.1 and 5.6 of the SPS Agreement, especially as China had not provided any scientific evidence or a risk assessment to justify its restriction. In December 2012 and again in March 2013 Mexico had requested an explanation and the scientific justification for the measure, but had received no response. Mexico urged China to respond to these requests and to modify its measure in light of the available information.
The United States supported the concern raised by Mexico, as the measure could potentially bar exports of some US spirits to China. The United States requested China to ensure the regulation was based on science, provide a risk assessment and revise the methanol limit to allow for the trade of safely produced distilled spirits.
The European Union and Paraguay echoed these concerns and asked China to adopt a less trade restrictive measure based on scientific evidence. Paraguay also noted that Members had the obligation to provide scientific justification at the request of other Members.
China responded that the methanol limit was set to ensure safety in light of heavy consumption of alcohol by Chinese consumers. China had notified the draft twice, in January 2009 and in July 2011, and had responded to the comments raised by Members.