The FINANCIAL — The WTO Secretariat has published a new information note about trade issues associated with the spread of diseases of animal origin. The note maps out the international framework in place to address these issues, along with ongoing efforts to ensure safe trade in animals and animal products, including in wildlife.
The note provides an overview of the current issues and the status of legal frameworks and planned future actions to control the spread, via trade, of diseases affecting human health that originate in animals. It stresses that safe trade in animals and animal products is possible, with the existing guidance for trade in animals and animal products and the international legal framework based on science-based interventions to manage risk.
The report highlights that the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures is the forum where WTO members can exchange information and discuss their approaches to SPS measures adopted to address the risk of COVID-19 and other zoonoses, while other WTO committees can serve as discussion fora for related issues. The SPS Committee also provides a “peer-review mechanism” for members to comment on other members’ SPS measures and share relevant information on good practices and scientific evidence, helping to improve the quality of regulation in this area and ensuring that trade measures contribute to fighting diseases of animal origin.
While COVID-19 is by far the worst such recent outbreak, the note observes that the pandemic has underscored the risk animal diseases pose to human health, with some 56 zoonoses together responsible for around 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million human deaths a year even before the pandemic. Other relevant data in the paper indicate that around 20 per cent of livestock production is lost due to animal diseases every year, leading to an estimated annual economic loss within the sector of about US$ 300 billion, with important implications for livelihoods, food security and nutrition worldwide.
The publication also recognizes that managing risks related to emerging diseases of animal origin requires multi-sectoral cooperation with other international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
According to both the WHO and the OIE, the COVID-19 pandemic is being sustained through human-to-human transmission and not through international trade in animals and animal products. Trade in animals and animal products can take place safely if risk reduction measures are applied based on international standards. However, as indicated in the document, risks associated with trade in animals and animal products, including wildlife, may increase when animal disease risks are not monitored and controlled.
The report concludes that implementing existing guidance and developing more detailed standards and guidance for particular risk factors requires engagement at the international level, and investment to ensure that domestic, regional and global public, veterinary and environmental health systems are well prepared and have a solid basis for collaboration.