STC Number - 314

Ban on offals

Maintained by: Viet Nam
Raised by: European Union; United States of America
Supported by: Australia; Canada; Chile; New Zealand
First date raised: March 2011 G/SPS/R/62, paras. 28-31
Dates subsequently raised: June 2011 (G/SPS/R/63, paras. 60-63)
October 2011 (G/SPS/R/64, paras. 57-60)
March 2012 (G/SPS/R/66, paras. 39-41)
July 2012 (G/SPS/R/67, paras. 31-35)
October 2012 (G/SPS/R/69, paras. 33-35)
March 2013 (G/SPS/R/70, paras. 3.50-3.52)
June 2013 (G/SPS/R/71, paras. 4.18-4.21)
October 2013 (G/SPS/R/73, paras. 3.32-3.34)
Number of times subsequently raised: 8
Relevant documents: Raised orally.
Products covered:
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; Sufficiency of scientific evidence
Status: Not reported
Solution:
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In March 2011, the United States expressed concerns about Viet Nam's implementation of a temporary ban on the importation of offal products as of 7 July 2010. While Viet Nam had cited food safety concerns for the implementation of the ban, in spite of repeated requests from several trading partners, Viet Nam had neither notified the WTO of this measure, nor had it provided any scientific justification for the ban. The United States had raised this issue bilaterally in the margins of previous Committee meetings and at Transpacific Partnership meetings, but was yet to see any change in the ban.
Canada supported the concerns of the United States. Canada was informed of the ban only after it had been imposed, and was not provided any scientific explanation for the action. This action had resulted in the immediate ban of trade valued at 4.2 million Canadian dollars in 2009. Canada had made numerous requests for Viet Nam to remove the ban, and the Canadian embassy in Viet Nam had been informed that Viet Nam intended to partially lift the ban. However, Viet Nam had subsequently introduced additional SPS requirements on offal imports, which Canada hoped were science-based.
The European Union, New Zealand and Australia supported the concerns expressed by the United States and Canada.
Viet Nam responded that the emergency measures taken to temporarily suspend the importation of offals were in response to grave public health concerns. According to a 2009 WHO report, eight million Vietnamese people had health problems related to food. Viet Nam was aware of the concerns raised by its trading partners and was looking for solutions. However, as a developing country with limited resources, it would take some time to strengthen the inspection procedures and provide uniform guidelines. Viet Nam had already lifted its temporary ban on offals from poultry and pork and was currently in discussion with the United States and other trading partners to find adequate solutions for both Viet Nam's human health situation and trade.
In June 2011, the United States expressed concerns that Viet Nam continued to restrict trade in offal as of July 2010 without providing any scientific justification or notification. Viet Nam had since lifted its ban on hearts, livers, and kidneys derived from cattle, swine, and poultry, but the ban on all other offal products continued. To date, no scientific justification had been provided for the ban, despite many requests for such information, and the United States urged Viet Nam to lift its unjustified ban immediately.
The European Union expressed similar concerns and indicated that the ban seriously affected EU exports of offal. The ban was not consistent with Viet Nam's obligations under the SPS Agreement, as the measure had not been notified; no scientific justification had been provided despite requests from trading partners, and there were no similar measures on domestic offal, thereby discriminating against foreign imports. The recent revision of the ban, which would allow resumption of imports of some red offal, was a positive step, but the ban on other types of offal remained in place. Viet Nam was urged to immediately lift its ban on all offal or, alternatively, to provide a risk assessment and scientific justification. Viet Nam should refrain from implementing such measures in the future, and comply with the transparency requirements and other obligations under the SPS Agreement.
New Zealand supported the systemic concerns expressed by the United States and the European Union, specifically with regard to the lack of notification and scientific justification, and requested Viet Nam to lift the ban as soon as possible.
Viet Nam responded that there was no formal regulation banning imports of offal. During 2009 and early 2010, imported frozen animal and animal products were found to violate the food safety requirements of Viet Nam; within that time period, Viet Nam detected and disposed of 94 tons of meat, 42,57 tons of offal, and 234,000 chickens. In order to protect Vietnamese consumers, the government issued Letter 1152 requesting relevant agencies to better control imported animal products. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) enacted Circular 25 on registration and management to control the import of animal products, and Circular 29 on criteria for testing and control to regulate the level of contaminants in animal products. To continue trade in animal offal, the MARD Department of Animal Health enacted an official letter on 23 March 2011 to guide the import of red offal. On 1 June 2011, the MARD sent Letter 1528 to Viet Nam's customs offices to inform them of the decision to allow trade in red offal. According to data from the Department of Animal Health, from March to May 2011 Viet Nam imported 170 tons of red offal from the United States and Canada. Viet Nam still banned all trade in white offal and intended to conduct a risk assessment on white offal. Viet Nam was willing to meet bilaterally with interested Members, and sought more information and data with which to conduct the risk assessment with the goal of opening trade in white offal.
In October 2011, the European Union indicated that Viet Nam's ban continued to seriously affect EU exports of offal, and recalled that Viet Nam had previously indicated its intention to conduct a risk-assessment. Viet Nam claimed to have taken these measures because imported frozen animals and animal products were found to violate its food safety requirements. However, Viet Nam had indicated that no violations were found on EU products, and as such import bans on EU offal were not justified. Moreover, since there were no similar measures on domestic offal, the measure discriminated against foreign imports. The European Union welcomed Viet Nam's partial lifting of the ban on red offal, and looked forward to Viet Nam's commitment to lift the ban by end of 2011.
The United States shared concerns about Viet Nam's restrictions on offal without any scientific justification or notification being provided to the WTO or trading partners. After months of discussions, MARD had provided an official indication in July 2011 that it would lift its ban on red offal, and later on products derived from cattle. However, all other products, such as stomachs and intestines derived from cattle, swine, and poultry, remained banned. The United States urged Viet Nam to lift all of the bans on offal immediately.
New Zealand repeated its support of the systemic concerns expressed by the European Union and the United States, specifically with regard to the lack of notification and scientific justification.
Viet Nam reiterated that the temporary measure was geared at protecting human health from risks arising from contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in food, and that the measure did not aim to impose trade restrictions. In light of the concerns of its trading partners, Viet Nam was considering how to prevent a negative trade impact from the measure, and had already lifted the ban on red offals. However, as a developing country with limited resources, the Vietnamese authorities needed time to collect the information for risk assessments. Viet Nam urged trading partners to provide relevant information and technical cooperation to facilitate the process.
In March 2012, the European Union expressed its continuing concerns with Viet Nam's ban on imported offals, and particularly white offals. Although Viet Nam had previously stated that the temporary measure was to protect human health, it had not yet provided a risk assessment. This measure had affected EU exports but there was no indication of any safety problems with EU offals. The ban was neither justified nor proportionate and since there were no similar measures on domestic offal, the measure discriminated against foreign imports. The European Union urged Viet Nam to immediately lift any remaining restrictions on imports of offals.
The United States shared the EU concerns and observed that the measure had not been notified nor information provided to trading partners to support the purported safety concerns. While the ban had been lifted on red offal, all other offal products, known as white offal, such as stomachs and intestines, remained banned. Viet Nam was urged to provide a scientific assessment or to immediately lift the ban on all offal.
Viet Nam reiterated the objectives of the temporary measure. In light of the concerns of trading partners and to facilitate the trade of food products, including offal, Viet Nam had issued a number of documents, such as Food Safety laws, to facilitate the control and regulation of food imports. The ban on red offal had been lifted and the ban on white offal remained because of the lack of a clear definition of offal in international standards. Viet Nam's experts were working in close cooperation with trading partners to clearly define offal and to discuss other related issues in order to find appropriate solutions. Once again Viet Nam urged interested trading partners to provide relevant information and technical cooperation to facilitate the completion of the research process.
In July 2012, the United States recalled that in July 2010, Viet Nam imposed a temporary ban on the importation of offals from all countries, including the United States. The measure was never notified to the WTO and no scientific data had been provided that justified Viet Nam's food safety concerns. After months of discussions, in April 2011 Viet Nam provided official notification that it would lift the ban on imports of pork and poultry hearts, livers and kidneys (red offal), and in May 2011, for the same products derived from cattle, but this was not done. In November 2011, Viet Nam indicated that it would complete a regulatory review within three months of the offal trade suspension. Having received no information on the status of the review, in May 2012 the United States again sent a letter to Viet Nam. The United States remained concerned by Viet Nam's continued ban on offal products derived from cattle, swine and poultry and urged Viet Nam to immediately lift all of the bans on offal.
The European Union supported the concerns raised by the United States. The ban had only been partially lifted for red offals in 2011, and Viet Nam had indicated that further lifting of the ban was pending the outcome of the risk assessment. The European Union welcomed Viet Nam's recent communication that the ban would soon be lifted.
New Zealand expressed a systemic concern as the measure of concern had not been notified nor scientific justification provided, and requested that the ban be lifted as soon as possible. Australia welcomed the fact that Viet Nam had lifted the ban on red offal but expressed disappointment that trade in white offal was still prohibited as it had a significant impact on Australian trade.
Viet Nam recalled the objectives of the measure and noted that it had strengthened its technical regulations and improved its human capacity to facilitate the quality control of food and food stuff; as a result, the import of red offal had resumed in 2011. The reopening of its market to white offal was under consideration and Viet Nam remained open to bilateral discussions with its trading partners.
In October 2012, the European Union stated that Vietnam had clarified that the ban was temporarily imposed due to food safety concerns and had lifted the ban on red-offal following bilateral discussions and confirmation that no problems were detected in offal imported from the European Union. However, the ban on white offal remained, and without a risk assessment. The European Union urged Vietnam to rapidly find a solution in order to lift the unjustified measure.
Australia, New Zealand, and the United States also noted that the existing ban on white offal was affecting their trade and requested Vietnam to lift the ban.
Viet Nam recalled that this was a temporary measure to protect human health. Limitations of resources and human capacity had delayed the removal of the ban on white offals, however the issue was under consideration. Viet Nam appreciated the relationship with its trading partners and was willing to work with them to find an amicable solution.
In March 2013, the European Union expressed its continuing concern with the import ban on offal imposed by Viet Nam for almost three years. Viet Nam had, in the past, clarified that the ban was temporarily imposed due to food safety concerns detected in imported offal. However, Viet Nam had also confirmed that no problems were detected in offal imported into Viet Nam from EU countries. In addition, Viet Nam had not provided any risk assessment to justify the ban, despite several requests. Although the ban on red-offal had been lifted, a ban remained in place on white offal, which continued to impact EU exports. The European Union indicated its willingness to work together with Viet Nam to find a speedy solution and further urged Viet Nam to lift the unjustified measure.
The United States recalled that the temporary ban on the importation of offal imposed by Viet Nam, in July 2010, was never notified to the WTO and that no scientific data had been provided to justify the ban. In April 2011, Viet Nam provided official notification that it would lift the ban on imports of pork and poultry hearts, livers and kidneys (so-called "red offal"), and in May 2011, of these same products derived from cattle. However, this was not done. In November 2011, Viet Nam had committed to complete a regulatory review within three months to lift the offal trade suspension. However, in May 2012, having received no information on the status of the review, the United States sent a letter inquiry to Viet Nam. The United States remained highly concerned by Viet Nam's continued ban and urged Viet Nam to immediately lift the ban on US offal products.
Viet Nam explained that the measure was adopted in response to a number of cases of contaminated offal imported into Viet Nam between 2010 and 2011. During the bilateral work with the United States and other trading partners, Viet Nam had gained important knowledge about the hygiene and food safety control systems of these countries and a report had to be prepared based on this information. Viet Nam hoped to lift the ban within a few months. A new safety law required establishments that intended to export white offal to Vietnam to obtain accreditation. Viet Nam would work further with the European Union and the United States to reopen the market for white offal in the future.
In June 2013, the European Union reiterated that Viet Nam's ban on white offal was not proportionate, as Viet Nam had confirmed that there were no problems with imports of any offals from the European Union. During previously held bilateral discussions, as well as within the SPS Committee, Viet Nam had expressed its intention to lift the ban. Three years on, however, the ban remained. The European Union was willing to continue to work towards a resolution to this issue, and urged Viet Nam to rapidly lift this unjustified ban.
The United States expressed its solidarity with the European Union in regard to Viet Nam's ban on selected offal products. This ban raised serious questions about Viet Nam's compliance with its WTO obligations. The United States urged Viet Nam to lift this ban immediately and to ensure that any new regulations were transparent, science-based and not unduly restrictive of trade.
Australia expressed support for the EU and US positions and raised its concern that, without a risk-assessment, the ban was unwarranted. Australia appreciated Viet Nam's repeal of the ban on red offal, but urged it to move forward in regard to white offal products.
Viet Nam noted that the bans were put in place out of concern for public safety. New import measures were being considered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Development and Customs and Viet Nam would look to interested trading partners assist in this process.
In October 2013, the European Union welcomed the lifting of Viet Nam's ban on red offal, and appreciated information from Viet Nam indicating that the ban on white offal had also been lifted. However, Viet Nam had imposed several new import conditions on white offal, including additional registration requirements and a restriction to use only three points of entry into the country. Viet Nam had not notified trading partners about this change in import conditions, which the European Union considers overly burdensome and lengthy.
The United States also thanked Viet Nam for its announcement on removing trade restrictions on offal, but expressed concern at possible additional conditions and attestations required by Viet Nam for specific products. The United States requested a complete list of the Vietnamese import requirements and the scientific justification to support those requirements.
Australia and Chile shared the concerns expressed by the European Union and the United States, and urged Viet Nam to work with trading partners to establish import conditions based on scientific principles.