Mirror measures : how to protect farmers and the environment ?

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European agricultural production standards are higher than those of our trading partners (pesticides, breeding conditions, etc.). As a result, many imported foods do not meet European standards and European farmers and breeders face distortions of competition. Thus « mirror » measures, i.e. reciprocity measures, based on European standards, should apply to imported products.

However, the risk of incompatibility of such measures with WTO law is often raised by their critics. But WTO rules are not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle to a European agricultural model that is more protective of the environment and animal welfare.

First of all, ‘Sustainable development’ is recognised as a goal in WTO Agreement preamble. Then, WTO case-law show favourable trends to mirror measures, and there are precedents of mirror measures implemented by the EU without any dispute rulings before WTO judges.

Actually, the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) allow for coherent protective measures, if they are justified by legitimate objectives and sufficient scientific arguments. This is true both for the GATT and for the specific agreements that complement it (for example the SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures) Agreement and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)).

For the record, the WTO Agreements set out basic principles to ensure open trade: non-discrimination of imported products, prohibition of disproportionate trade restrictive measures, use of international standards as default benchmarks.

But they also allow for the justification of the implementation of barriers to international trade when certain conditions are met. In essence, these conditions are as follows:

1) to pursue a genuine legitimate objective, which includes the exceptions provided for by these Agreements ;

2) be based on international standards to justify the obstacle, or failing that, provide sufficient scientific evidence ;

3) be consistent with the objective sought, without going beyond what is necessary, or inducing unjustifiable discrimination.

To conclude : there are various legal options under existing rules to counter the argument on WTO incompatibility of mirror measures and, if the reminded conditions can be met, a risk of WTO dispute may well be assumed.

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