Skip to main content
Food Safety

World Trade Organization (WTO)

About the WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the leading international organisation that sets international rules for trade.

Both the European Union (EU) and the individual EU countries are members of the WTO. The European Commission represents the EU and the EU countries at all relevant WTO meetings.

The WTO replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994, however, the GATT Agreement still exists as the legal frame for trade in goods.

The GATT agreement allows WTO Members to apply exceptions to free circulation of goods to protect human, animal or plant life or health, provided they do not use these exceptions as disguised protectionism.

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations.

EU legal basis regarding the SPS Agreement

  • Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that confers on the Commission, on mandate from the Council, the powers to implement the common commercial policy, including International Treaties;

  • Council Decision 94/800/EU of 22 December 1994 approved, on behalf of the EU, "The Final Act of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations". This act includes the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures also known as the SPS Agreement.

An Expert group of Member States assists the Commission in preparing the EU position for the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee.

The SPS Agreement also includes special provisions on transparency and procedures on notifying changes in legislation which may significantly affect other trading partners.


The WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) defines "Regionalisation" and the general conditions that govern it.

Regionalisation is a concept where an area of a country is recognised as pest or disease-free or with low pest or disease prevalence. Trade from such areas is allowed even if the health status in the rest of the country is not favourable.

Countries should:

  • adapt sanitary or phytosanitary measures to the characteristics of the area where the product originated and to which it is destined;

  • recognise the concepts of pest- or disease-free areas and areas of low pest or disease prevalence;

  • provide evidence that areas on a country's territory are pest or disease-free or of low pest or disease prevalence, and allow the importing country to inspect, test and carry out other relevant procedures.

Benefits of regionalisation

  • Helps mitigate negative trade effects caused by sanitary or phytosanitary measures;

  • Developing countries can export from a regionalised area, although the health status may not be favourable in most of their territory;

  • Gives export opportunities to countries with little chance to do so to countries with a higher sanitary or phytosanitary level.

Non-binding guidelines were prepared by WTO to help Members recognise pest- and disease-free areas or areas of low pest or disease prevalence.

Related links