STC Number - 453

EU restrictions on the use of chlorothalonil (pesticide active substance) (G/TBT/N/EU/625)

Maintained by: European Union
Raised by: Colombia
Supported by: Bolivia, Plurinational State of; Brazil; Chile; Costa Rica; Ecuador; Guatemala; Honduras; Panama; Paraguay; Turkey; United States of America
First date raised: March 2019 G/SPS/R/94, paras. 3.1-3.11
Dates subsequently raised:
Number of times subsequently raised: 0
Relevant documents: G/TBT/N/EU/625; G/SPS/GEN/1695
Products covered: 0803 Bananas, including plantains, fresh or dried.; 1804 Cocoa butter, fat and oil.; 081030 - Black, white or red currants and gooseberries; 081040 - Cranberries, bilberries and other fruits of the genus Vaccinium; 10 Cereals; 1201 Soya beans, whether or not broken.
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Human health; Food safety; Maximum residue limits (MRLs); Pesticides; Risk assessment; International Standards / Harmonization; Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)
Status: Not reported
Date reported as resolved:

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In March 2019, Colombia raised a concern regarding the non-renewal of the approval of the active substance chlorothalonil and the potential effects on the maximum residue limits (MRLs) of the pesticides containing chlorothalonil, notified by the European Union in document G/TBT/N/EU/625 on 4 December 2018. Colombia had previously circulated this information as G/SPS/GEN/1695 and had raised it in the TBT Committee on 6 March 2019. Colombia explained that chlorothalonil was used for the control of black sigatoka and that the non-renewal of chlorothalonil would especially affect banana exports. Colombia's total production amounted to 1.87 million tonnes, with exports worth USD 850 million, and 80% of exports going to the European Union. In the main producing regions of Urabá, Magdalena and Guajira, the banana industry accounted for 35,000 direct and 100,000 indirect jobs.

Colombia was of the view that the EU's measure was based on the precautionary principle and that no risk had been determined for the metabolites concerned, and invited the European Union to request further information and complete a risk assessment based on data, not uncertainty. Colombia also held that the classification decision should be taken by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and that ECHA's opinion should be made available before member States were asked to take a decision on the renewal of the approval of chlorothalonil. Colombia questioned the measure's consistency with Article 2.2 of the SPS Agreement.

Colombia added that the regulatory change would also adversely impact other crops exported to the European Union (such as plantains, cape gooseberries and cocoa), which would have a major social and economic impact in the producing regions, and highlighted the wide biodiversity of pests, diseases and weeds in tropical agriculture. Colombia requested the European Union to maintain the registration of chlorothalonil and highlighted that their national banana industry required a period of at least six months to seek an alternative to this active ingredient, given the lack of equally effective alternative compounds.

Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Turkey and the United States echoed the concern of Colombia. Honduras expressed a commercial interest in the matter. Several of the supporting Members stressed that chlorothalonil was an effective tool for pest control, especially against black sigatoka in bananas, whose ban would constitute a challenge for farmers. Many asked the European Union to reconsider its course of action and undertake a full risk assessment, allowing for a transition period and providing alternatives to protect crops.

The United States recalled that an earlier instance of removal in 2014-2015 had already negatively impacted US cranberry production and exports to the European Union, without any apparent or measurable benefit to consumer health. The United States noted that EFSA had not completed a consumer risk assessment to inform future EU action on MRLs, and cited uncertainty around genotoxicity as the basis for the ban. Besides, the lack of clarity regarding the timing of future EU action on MRLs was already creating a burden for US growers, who were presently making crop protection decisions for their 2019 crops. Further, EU MRL transition policies were insufficient for producers of commodities with long shelf lives and distribution cycles. The United States invited the European Union to explain how its frequent changes in approval procedures had been limited to what was reasonable and necessary, and how it had sought to minimize negative trade impacts.

Paraguay reported that it had classified chlorothalonil as a low-risk pesticide used for rotation in corn, wheat, rice and soya. EFSA's carcinogenicity classification was based on inconclusive arguments, did not follow international standards, and would create unnecessary trade restrictions.

Costa Rica explained that it was the second largest banana exporter and half of its production was exported to the European Union. The industry generated 40,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect ones, mostly in less-developed rural areas. Following the application of good agricultural practices, the Analytical Laboratory for the Analysis of Agrochemical Residues of Costa Rica's State Phytosanitary Service had established the absence of chlorothalonil residues in banana production, thus confirming the absence of risk for public health and the environment. Costa Rica highlighted that the non-renewal and subsequent reduction of MRLs would create serious problems for its production sector, given the lack of alternative pesticides with a better environmental and toxicological profile. Costa Rica underscored that such public health debates should take place at the multilateral level, including within Codex.

Brazil agreed with Colombia that the concern had to be brought to the SPS Committee even though it had already been raised in the TBT Committee, since the draft EU regulation in question was based on a scientific opinion on risk to human, animal or plant life. Brazil was concerned that the non-renewal might only be the prelude to the establishment of new EU MRLs for chlorothalonil, which could be grounded in a hazard-based approach against scientific evidence presented by the relevant international organizations. A ban on chlorothalonil could lead to undesirable consequences such as an increase in food waste, a rise in the use of other substances, and unnecessary restrictions to trade.

Ecuador was not currently affected by the European Union's measures, but was nonetheless concerned that any subsequent steps aimed at modifying the MRLs could seriously affect its EU bound banana exports. Ecuador was the world's largest banana exporter. The sector generated around two million jobs along the value chain in Ecuador and represented 35% of its agricultural GPD. Most exporters were small-scale producers. Many of the plantations had international certificates attesting to the quality of production. Under Andean legislation governing the registration and control of chemical pesticides for agricultural use, the criteria for approving pesticides in Ecuador had to be scientifically based and developed in accordance with international standards before being further evaluated by the relevant technical national authorities. Ecuador asked the European Union to take into account all available data and observations.

The European Union explained that the measure at issue had not led to trade disruption since it had not amended the MRLs for chlorothalonil, and provided a grace period for products containing the substance. The European Union also confirmed that transitional measures would be considered when proposing changes to existing MRLs, but this would not occur before the expiry of the grace periods. Any decision to reduce MRLs in the future would also be notified separately to the SPS Committee.

The European Union disagreed that it was following a hazard-based approach, stressing that it had conducted a risk assessment which had resulted in the conclusion that the EU level of protection could not be met, consistent with the SPS Agreement. Import tolerance requests nonetheless remained possible, although they would have to be supported by substantial new data addressing the concerns identified in the EFSA opinion; and would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.