STC Number - 378

EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products

Maintained by: European Union
Raised by: India
Supported by:
First date raised: July 2014 G/SPS/R/75 paras. 4.15 - 4.18
Dates subsequently raised: October 2014 (G/SPS/R/76 paras. 3.37-3.40)
March 2015 (G/SPS/R/78 paras. 3.47-3.49)
July 2015 (G/SPS/R/79 paras. 3.58-3.66 )
October 2015 (G/SPS/R/81, paras. 3.45-3.47)
March 2016 (G/SPS/R/82, paras. 3.64-3.66)
June 2016 (G/SPS/R/83, paras. 4.49-4.50)
Number of times subsequently raised: 6
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/1354, G/SPS/GEN/1354/Rev.1
Products covered:
Primary subject keyword: Other concerns
Keywords: Other concerns; Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT); Equivalence
Status: Not reported
Solution:
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In July 2014, India indicated its concerns with the EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products, which it had previously recognized since 2006. The equivalence agreement with the European Union provided that processed and unprocessed organic food products from India could be exported to the European Union pursuant to certification from the bodies accredited under India's National Programme for Organic Products (NPOP). In order to expand its exports, in September 2012 India had published guidelines that would permit certain imported ingredients products. These guidelines, which provided that the percentage of imported ingredients would be within the range of 5%, were shared with the European Union who made no comment. However, EU Regulation No. 125/2013 with effect from 1 April 2013 removed processed organic products from the equivalence agreement, on the grounds that the agreement required that all of the ingredients must be grown in India. India clarified that no processed organic products containing imported ingredients were exported to the European Union. India requested that the equivalence recognition be restored as it had withdrawn the 2012 guidelines.
The European Union responded that India's concern was not an issue under the scope of the SPS Agreement. This position had previously been communicated to India during bilateral meetings held in April 2014 and on the margins of the current meeting of the SPS Committee. The European Union reiterated its commitment towards engaging with India at a technical level on this issue, within the appropriate framework.
India explained that the criteria for designating a product as organic were far more stringent than the requirements for non-organic products and as such, notification of these requirements would fall within the scope of the SPS Agreement. India requested clarification from the Secretariat in this regard, including a list of notifications regarding requirements for organic products. India also queried whether the international standard-setting bodies had undertaken any work in this regard.
The Secretariat noted that most notifications regarding organic products had been submitted under the TBT Agreement, as could be seen from the SPS and TBT Information Management Systems (IMS). There was no WTO legal interpretation addressing organic products. The Codex had undertaken work regarding, in particular, the labelling of organic food products, but as confirmed by the representatives, neither the IPPC nor the OIE had any activities in that regard.
The information provided by the Secretariat was subsequently issued in G/SPS/GEN/1354.

In October 2014, the Secretariat informed Members about inaccuracies in document G/SPS/GEN/1354, which provided information about SPS and TBT notifications on organic products, and on relevant Codex work. These inaccuracies would be corrected and a revised document would be circulated as soon as possible (G/SPS/GEN/1354/Rev.1, dated 7 November 2014).
India reiterated its concerns with the EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products, which it had previously recognized since 2006. The equivalence agreement with the European Union provided that processed and unprocessed organic food products from India could be exported to the European Union pursuant to certification from the bodies accredited under India's National Programme for Organic Products. In order to expand its exports, India had published guidelines in September 2012 that would permit certain imported ingredients, such as herbs, flavours, additives and colours, to be blended with Indian organic value-added products. These guidelines, which provided that the percentage of imported ingredients would be within the range of 5%, were shared with the European Union, who did not comment. However, EU Regulation No. 125/2013 had removed processed organic products from the equivalence agreement on the grounds that the agreement required all ingredients to be grown in India. India clarified that no processed organic products containing imported ingredients were exported to the European Union since its 2012 guidelines had recently been withdrawn. India requested that the equivalence recognition be restored.
The United States was looking forward to the revised document and expressed its view that organic products did not fall under the ambit of the SPS Committee.
The European Union explained that its position that organic production was not covered by the SPS Agreement had not changed. Furthermore, as this concern related to a lack of compliance with rules of origin, the issue had no relation to SPS or food safety requirements. The European Union expressed its willingness to convey India's concerns to the services of the European Commission responsible for organic products. The European Union had contacted the competent authority in India to start a dialogue at technical level.

In March 2015, India raised concerns regarding the EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products, which had previously been recognized since 2006. The equivalence agreement with the European Union provided that processed and unprocessed organic food products from India could be exported to the European Union pursuant to certification from the bodies accredited under India's National Programme for Organic Products (NPOP). In order to expand its exports, in September 2012 India had published guidelines that would permit certain imported ingredients. These guidelines provided that the percentage of imported ingredients would be within the range of 5%. However, EU regulation No. 125/2013 with effect from 1 April 2013 had removed processed organic products from the equivalence agreement, on the grounds that the agreement required that all of the ingredients be grown in India. India clarified that no processed organic products containing imported ingredients were exported to the European Union. India requested that the equivalence recognition be restored since it had withdrawn the 2012 guidelines.
The European Union responded that India's concern was not an issue under the scope of the SPS Agreement. The European Union reiterated its commitment towards engaging with India at a technical level on this issue, within the appropriate framework. An audit of the EU's Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) would take place in India on 13-24 April 2015.
The United States supported the EU response, noting that organic standards and organic certification programmes were not under the scope of the SPS Agreement.

In July 2015, India recalled its concerns regarding the EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products, which it had previously recognized since 2006. India restated the explanation that it had provided in July 2014 and March 2015. EU regulation No. 125/2013 with effect from 1 April 2013 had removed processed organic products from the equivalence agreement, on the grounds that the agreement required that all of the ingredients be grown in India. India noted that no processed organic products containing imported ingredients were exported to the European Union, and again requested that the equivalence recognition be restored, since it had withdrawn the 2012 guidelines that would permit certain imported ingredients.
The European Union restated its opinion that India's concern was not under the purview of the SPS Committee. India's concerns were being discussed bilaterally in the appropriate forum.
The United States supported the EU response and explained that organic programmes did not address risks to plant, animal or human health. Their requirements were similar to those of halal labelling and thus would fall under the TBT Agreement.
India noted that packaging and labelling requirements directly related to food safety fell under Annex A of the SPS Agreement. India also highlighted that document G/SPS/GEN/1354/Rev.1 listed 24 notifications related to organic products, and that Codex had developed standards on organic products. Furthermore, according to India, language used in EU regulation EC834/2007 linked organic products with protection of human, animal and plant health.
Chile expressed the view that Codex standards did not define the scope of the SPS Agreement.
Ecuador requested clarification on the relevant Committee to discuss organic products requirements.
Codex explained that its Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods contained a definition of organic products but did not establish any food safety standards, nor any MRLs for food products.
The Secretariat explained that many Codex standards included requirements related to nutrition, labelling and packaging for food products and were thus relevant for the TBT Committee. The Secretariat informed notifying Members when it was not clear whether a particular notification should be notified under the SPS or the TBT Agreement, but ultimately the Member decided under which Agreement it wished to submit a particular notification. Some notifications related e.g. to residues of organic pesticides had been notified under the SPS Agreement, and many notifications related to organic agriculture had been made under the TBT Agreement.
The European Union noted that India's selective reading of EU regulations led to the wrong conclusion. It confirmed that the regulation was not aimed at food safety, nor related to the SPS Committee.

In October 2015, India recalled its concerns regarding the EU withdrawal of equivalence for processed organic products, which had previously been recognized since 2006. EU regulation No. 125/2013, with effect from 1 April 2013, had removed processed organic products from the equivalence agreement, on the grounds that the agreement required that all of the ingredients be grown in India. India noted that no processed organic products containing imported ingredients were exported to the European Union, and again requested that the equivalence recognition be restored, since it had withdrawn the 2012 guidelines that would have permitted use of certain imported ingredients.
Chile stated that it had a similar agreement with the European Union; however it was clear this issue was related to TBT measures rather than SPS measures.
The European Union restated its opinion that India's concern was not under the purview of the SPS Committee and expressed willingness to continue bilateral discussions with Indian authorities in the appropriate framework as demonstrated by the discussions that had taken place in India earlier in October 2015.

In March 2016, India recalled its statements from previous SPS Committee meetings and reported the most recent developments. In April 2015, an FVO mission had taken place to inspect the control systems but the report had not been received until February 2016. The report did not address the equivalence issue and India remained unaware of any gaps or of the steps the European Union was taking to address this issue. India restated its position that if any regulation addresses food safety in the context of Article 2.1 or Annex A falls under the scope of the SPS Agreement.
The European Union reiterated its position that this issue did not fall under the SPS Agreement. The European Union remained open to continue discussions with India on this matter in the appropriate framework.
The United States associated itself with the European Union and reiterated its view that this issue was not SPS-related.

In June 2016, India recalled the concern raised at previous SPS Committee meetings and reported that in April 2015, a mission had taken place to inspect the control systems but the report had not been received until February 2016. The new issue at hand was the EU demand for reciprocity and mutual benefits. India requested that the European Union communicate in writing its precondition to grant only reciprocal equivalence for organic products, in order to pave the way forward for this issue to be resolved.
The European Union reiterated its view that this issue did not fall under the SPS Agreement. The European Union was unprepared to provide any response in the SPS Committee but remained open to continue discussions with India on this matter in the appropriate forum.