STC Number - 283

Pesticide maximum residue levels (MRLs)

Maintained by: Japan
Raised by: Brazil; China; Ecuador
Supported by:
First date raised: June 2009 G/SPS/R/55 paras. 36-38. See also STC 212 and STC 267
Dates subsequently raised: October 2009 (G/SPS/R/56 paras. 50-52)
October 2010 (G/SPS/R/61 paras. 37-38)
June 2011 (G/SPS/R/63 paras. 178-181)
October 2011 (G/SPS/R/64 paras. 55-56)
Number of times subsequently raised: 4
Relevant documents: Raised orally; G/SPS/GEN/1091
Products covered: 07 Edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers; 08 Edible fruit and nuts; peel of citrus fruit or melons; 09 Coffee, tea, mate and spices; 10 Cereals
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; Maximum residue limits (MRLs); International Standards / Harmonization
Status: Partially resolved
Solution: Partial resolution applies only to Brazil.
Date reported as resolved: 11/11/2013

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In June 2009, Brazil noted that Japan imposed stricter pesticide residue limits than Codex, because it required industry-wide testing for one MRL violation and a 100 per cent test-and-hold policy in case a second violation involving the same pesticide and commodity took place within one year. Brazil had difficulty in exporting green coffee beans to Japan, as Japan's MRL was 30 times lower than that of Codex. In a bilateral meeting, Japan had stated that the revision of these MRLs would take place within two years. Brazil had requested an interim transitional mechanism as trade in coffee was worth over US$300 million per year. Brazil exported coffee to over 100 countries and requested Japan to modify their procedures in line with international standards, or provide a transitional period while the Japanese authorities decided on the revision of the requirement without any negative impact on Brazilian coffee exports.

China supported Brazil's concern, and requested that Japan's temporary standards be based on scientific justification and a risk analysis. These measures had been applied for a period of three years, adversely affecting Chinese food exports to Japan. Furthermore, Japan's uniform standard of 0.01 ppm for several pesticides was arbitrary and without scientific justification. China requested that Japan brings its requirements into line with the relevant international standards. China's exporters indicated that imported products were subjected to a greater number of random inspections. Furthermore, inspections were carried out only on certain imported products, even though the same pesticides were also used domestically in Japan. China urged Japan to apply its measures uniformly without any discrimination.

Japan clarified that the MRLs were based on scientific assessment, and Codex and other international standards were taken into account when enforcing the measures. Japan had notified the WTO before establishing these MRLs and had received comments. The SPS Agreement was taken into consideration, and the measures were applied equally to imported and domestic products. The frequency of inspections was increased based on findings of violations. Japan confirmed that the Codex MRLs would be the basis of the current revision, which would occur by December at the earliest. Japan expressed its commitment to continuing bilateral discussions with Brazil.

In October 2009, China recalled that after the implementation of Japan's positive list system for chemical residues, China and many other WTO Members had expressed concerns regarding the issue of "uniform standards". Japan had indicated that the standard would be revised on the basis of scientific evaluations and MRLs would be established for more chemical residues. In recent years, almost all notices that China received from Japan regarding products that exceeded pesticide limits were caused by the "uniform standards". These had severely affected China's trade with Japan. Also, after the implementation of Japan's positive list system, a series of regulatory measures such as intensified inspection, quarantine and supervision, had been undertaken. China urged Japan to develop science-based residue limits for the items of concern as soon as possible, to alleviate unnecessary restrictions to international trade.

Ecuador supported China's concern regarding MRLs applied by Japan. Ecuador's cacao exports had faced difficulties of market access, and although various meetings had taken place, no solution had been provided. Ecuador requested Japan to modify its MRLs in accordance with international standards.

Japan stated that the uniform standard was based on the evaluations by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and/or on the tolerance exposure amounts that the US Food and Drug Administration adopted for food additives.

In October 2010, Ecuador raised concerns over Japan's 2006 Food Health Act establishing new MRLs for food products of plant and animal origin, intended for human consumption. Products with concentrations of residues above those limits could not be imported, processed, used or stored for sale in Japan. The Food Health Act established a list of 158 chemicals and their corresponding MRL for food, and substances. The establishment of such stringent limits had meant that shipments of Ecuadorian cocoa in which 24D was present had been rejected by Japan, causing significant costs to Ecuador cocoa exporters and producers. Despite constructive bilateral discussions, no solution had been found, and Ecuador requested more information on the process used by Japan to set its MRLs measures and asked for swift notification by Japan of anomalies or lack of compliance with cocoa exports regulations.

Japan stated that based on the Japanese Positive List System, the Ministry oh Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) established individual MRLs in food commodities through safety evaluations and residue studies. Japan adopted Codex MRLs as Japanese MRLs where the necessary requirements were met. If Ecuador wanted Japan to establish MRLs for specific pesticides, an application had to be submitted to the MHLW. In addition, Japan would consider relevant applications for modifications and revise current MRLs as appropriate.

In June 2011, Ecuador expressed concern about Japan's decision to apply MRLs to additives based on a positive list system. Similar concerns had been raised by Paraguay (G/SPS/GEN/1091), and Ecuador was hopeful that a solution could be found. The current approach was particularly damaging to the livelihood of Ecuador's small producers and exporters of cocoa.

Brazil expressed their support of the interventions by Ecuador and Paraguay.

Japan observed that they had not previously received information from Ecuador regarding this issue, but were keen to work with Ecuador on this issue bilaterally.

The United States expressed appreciation to Japan for sharing information on how they were dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake. This was an example of sound and transparent practices.

In October 2011, Ecuador recalled that in June 2005, Japan had notified its intention to apply a positive list system for the adoption of MRLs, however, the document annexed to the notification did not indicate that the MRLs would be 0.01 ppm. The result was that while 12 companies used to export cacao to Japan, now only five could do so. In 2006, sales to Japan were US$20.7 million, and accounted for 12.4 million metric tons. However, between 2007 and 2010 both the volume and value of exports dropped by more than 60 per cent. Since the issue was first raised, many Members had repeatedly asked Japan to provide its risk analysis to scientifically justify the application of the MRLs. Ecuador urged Japan to consider the EU methodology of analyzing residues in the kernel and not on the husk, and to accept the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) standards.

Paraguay shared the views of Ecuador and emphasized that the MRLs must be science-based.

Japan observed that it had repeatedly requested the Government of Ecuador to file an application with the relevant Japanese authorities to revise the MRLs, providing sufficient data. The current 0.01 ppm limit was the same used by the European Union. Before the MRL was set, Japan had notified the WTO in accordance with the SPS Agreement.