STC Number - 49

Restrictions on imports of sauces containing benzoic acid

Maintained by: Australia
Raised by: Philippines
Supported by: Malaysia
First date raised: September 1998 G/SPS/R/12 paras. 83-85
Dates subsequently raised: November 1998 (G/SPS/R/13 paras. 24-25)
July 1999 (G/SPS/R/15 para. 68)
June 2000 (G/SPS/R/19 para. 21)
Number of times subsequently raised: 3
Relevant documents: G/SPS/GEN/106 see also G/SPS/13 G/SPS/GEN/137 G/SPS/W/107/Rev.1
Products covered: 2103 Sauces and preparations therefor; mixed condiments and mixed seasonings; mustard flour and meal and prepared mustard.
Primary subject keyword: Food safety
Keywords: Food safety; Human health; International Standards / Harmonization
Status: Resolved
Solution: Australian tolerance level modified in June 2000. In October 2001, the representative of the Philippines stated that an update had been sent to the WTO Secretariat on Australia's restrictions on sauces containing benzoic acid (G/SPS/R/25, par. 36).
Date reported as resolved: 01/10/2001

Extracts from SPS Committee meeting summary reports

In September 1998, the Philippines, joined by Malaysia, raised concerns on Australia's measure to prohibit importation of sauces containing benzoïde acid. The measure was highly discriminatory in light of the fact that sauces containing benzoïde acid originating from New Zealand were allowed entry into Australia. Furthermore, the reasons provided by Australia did not constitute a scientific justification for prohibiting imports from the Philippines. In light of the above, the Philippines requested Australia to lift its import prohibition.

The representative of Australia noted his authorities willingness to pursue the matter with the Philippines. International standards did not exist with respect to the use of benzoïde acid in food such as sauces and Australia was currently undergoing a review of its current standards as part of the arrangement to establish a joint food standard-setting mechanism for both Australia and New Zealand. Australia expected that a uniform standard would be in place by mid-1999.

The representative of the Philippines noted that this was a clear example of a specific trade concern stemming from the lack of an international standard. The Philippines would endeavour to put the issue under the agenda item on harmonization and monitoring of international standards at the next Committee meeting. The Philippines would also request Codex to give priority to the matter, given its importance for developing countries.

In November 1998, pursuing a matter raised at the September 1998 meeting of the Committee, the representative of the Philippines noted that bilateral consultations with Australia had, so far, been unsuccessful. Australia prohibited all imports of sauces containing benzoic acid, except those originating from New Zealand. According to Australian authorities, the imports from New Zealand were allowed because of transitional arrangements related to the development of a joint food standards system by the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA). Under this agreement, Australia permitted imports of food stuff from New Zealand which complied either with Australian or with New Zealand food regulations. The latter allowed the use of benzoic acid in sauces. In addition, the transitional arrangement included a dual standard clause which allowed Australian food manufacturers to apply the New Zealand food regulations. The Philippines were of the view that the Australian measure was inconsistent with Article 2 of the SPS Agreement, and in particular Article 2.3. The Australian discriminatory measure had been in place since 1996, preventing access for Philippine products to the Australian market. The Philippines reiterated its request for the immediate lifting of the ban.

The Australian delegate responded that the current arrangements allowing sauces containing benzoic acids from New Zealand but not from other countries were transitional and arose from a treaty between the two countries to develop a common food standards system for both countries by the end of 1999. Considerable progress had been made regarding benzoic acids in sauces. Following detailed dietary exposure determinations, ANZFA had proposed that the level of 1 thousand mg/kg for benzoic acids in sauces be approved. The draft general standard had been notified in October 1998 with a comment period until the end of December. ANZFA expected that the final standard for food additives would be implemented in the first half of 1999.

In July 1999, the representative of the Philippines reported on bilateral consultations with Australia regarding benzoic acid. At the November 1998 Committee meeting, Australia had indicated that there was a proposal by ANZFA to allow the use of benzoic acid in sauces, which had been notified in October 1998. At the time, Australia had expected the final regulation to be in place during the first half of 1999. In May 1999, Australia had reaffirmed that the new food standard code being developed by ANZFA recommended that benzoic acid be accepted as a preservative. However, Australia indicated that the new code would only be formalized by the end of 1999. The Philippines welcomed the news that Australia would accept the use of benzoic acid, and hoped that Australia would bring its measure into conformity with the SPS Agreement without any further delay. The representative of Australia confirmed that benzoic acid would be allowed as an additive under the new food standards code.

In June 2000, the representative of the Philippines noted that this item was first introduced in the Committee in October 1998, and was now well-known. He requested an update on the situation from Australia. The representative of Australia reported that the relevant part of the Australian Food Standards Code had been undergoing a revision process. The present restrictions on benzoic acid would be removed and replaced on 22 June 2000 with a 1,000 milligrams per kilogram tolerance level for benzoates in sauces. The new tolerance level, as part of the Australian Food Standards Code, would apply to all food sold in the Australian market, whether produced in Australia or imported from any other country, including benzoic acid in sauces from the Philippines.

In October 2001, the representative of the Philippines stated that an update had been sent to the WTO Secretariat on Australia's restrictions on sauces containing benzoic acid.