EU faces more criticism from WTO members over MRLs

18:42 PM | July 13, 2020 | Jackie Bird

The EU’s hazard-based approach to pesticide regulation and its lowering of maximum residue limits (MRLs) to “trade-restrictive” levels continues “without clear scientific justification or measurable benefit to human health," says a group of nine countries in the WTO’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. In a submission to the Committee in June, the US, supported by Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Panama, and Paraguay, says that they “remain deeply concerned” that the EU’s pesticide policy is adversely impacting global agricultural production and trade.

The group singles out EU actions on MRLs for the insecticides, buprofezin and diflubenzuron; the fungicides, chlorothalonil, imazalil, iprodione, and picoxystrobin; and the herbicides, ethoxysulfuron, glufosinate, ioxynil, molinate, and tepraloxydim. It raised the issue last year, along with complaints from Brazil over picoxystrobin MRLs and Colombia over chlorothalonil. The group regards the EU’s responses as inadequate.

Furthermore, the group is “troubled” by additional actions subsequently taken by the EU. These include the European Commission’s decision last year to withdraw draft changes to certain MRLs after the European Parliament objected to a proposal to raise import tolerances for the neonicotinoid insecticide, clothianidin. This was followed by another objection this year from the Parliament’s Environment Committee to proposals to raise MRLs for the insecticide, flonicamid; the herbicide, haloxyfop-P;and the fungicide, mandestrobin. The WTO group notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the objection being adopted by the full Parliament, but wants to know whether the Commission intends to pursue the proposal or amend it to lower the MRLs.

Elsewhere, concerns are raised by the Commission’s new Farm to Forkstrategy, which seeks to reduce pesticide use, and its conclusions from the “fitness check” of the EU agrochemical registration Regulation (1107/2009). In the latter, the Commission says that improvements are needed so that EU member states discontinue risk assessments when hazard-based cut-off criteria are triggered. The WTO group urges the EU to explain how it will give companies certainty in the use of cut-off criteria and when derogations will be granted. It also questions how the EU will conduct assessments in line with UN Codex Alimentarius Commission guidelines if it ceases full risk assessments on certain ais.

Another point raised is the Commission’s statement in Farm to Fork that it will use trade deal negotiations to encourage non-EU countries to adopt its hazard-based approach to pesticide regulation. The group wonders how such a policy fits in with WTO phytosanitary agreements when the EU’s intention appears to be to restrict market access to ais “that are deemed safe through scientific evaluation by competent regulatory authorities around the world."