International markets for U.S agricultural products are often subjected to a wide range of trade barriers such as tariff and non-tariff measures. Though tariffs for agricultural products have been declining over the years under the purview of World Trade Organization (WTO), sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers have become increasingly more prevalent for agri-food exports. In general, SPS measures occupy a special place in the WTO because of their crucial aim: the safeguarding of the health and safety of human, animal, and plant well-being. Also, when it comes to non-tariff barriers, SPS measures occupy a particularly relevant place in the importing country's agenda because of their primary aim of protecting citizens from everyday food hazards.
Recently, an apple trade dispute between Japan and the U.S. and an avocado trade dispute between Mexico and the U.S. have created interest in economic analysis of SPS barriers. There are real concerns about food safety issues associated with imported food products. But SPS measures, in particular, involve protectionist objectives that are very difficult to disentangle, which in fact may act as trade barriers. Overall, the U.S. agri-food industries face significant challenges satisfying SPS regulations because of increasing concerns about food safety, stricter SPS requirements in trade, competitiveness in export markets, and occasionally, protectionism.
Economists have examined the effects of SPS barriers in seed corn markets, poultry markets, cut flowers markets, apple markets, and more recently, fruit and vegetable markets. The U.S. agricultural industry is the largest in the world and continues to expand. Agricultural trade has been an important part of this expansion. Most of the studies show that tariffs still act as significant barriers to the U.S. agri-food trade that could further be reduced. Also, studies show that SPS regulations remain an important barrier to the U.S. agri-food exports. This raises the issue of sorting which of these SPS regulations are legitimate, that is, science based, and which are not and could therefore be eliminated.
- sanitary and phytosanitary