International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15)

ISPM 15Cases
ISPM 15 revisionGenetically modified organisms
Internationally accepted types of treatmentHormone-treated beef
Countries participating in ISPM 15Interaction with other World Trade Organization instruments
History and FrameworkCriticism
Main Provisions


A photo of the IPPC seal

International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15) is an International Phytosanitary Measure developed by the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) that directly addresses the need to treat wood materials of a thickness greater than 6mm, used to ship products between countries. Its main purpose is to prevent the international transport and spread of disease and insects that could negatively affect plants or ecosystems. ISPM 15 affects all wood packaging material (pallets, crates, dunnages, etc.) requiring that they be debarked and then heat treated or fumigated with methyl bromide and stamped or branded, with a mark of compliance. This mark of compliance is colloquially known as the "wheat stamp". Products exempt from the ISPM 15 are made from an alternative material, like paper, plastic or wood panel products (i.e. OSB, hardboard, and plywood).

ISPM 15 revision

The Revision of ISPM No. 15 (2009) under Annex 1, requires that wood used to manufacture ISPM 15 compliant Wood Packaging must be made from debarked wood not to be confused with bark free wood. ISPM 15 was updated to adopt the bark restriction regulations proposed by the European Union in 2009. Australia held out for approximately one year with more stringent bark restrictions before conforming July 1, 2010

Debarked wood packaging

Wood packaging materials must be debarked prior to being heat treated or fumigated to meet ISPM 15 regulations. The debarking component of the regulation is to prevent the re-infestation of insects while lumber is sitting to be manufactured, or even after it has been manufactured. The official definition for debarked lumber according to the ISPM 15 Revision (2009) is:

"Irrespective of the type of treatment applied, wood packaging material must be made of debarked wood. For this standard, any number of visually separate and clearly distinct small pieces of bark may remain if they are: - less than 3 cm in width (regardless of the length) or - greater than 3 cm in width, with the total surface area of an individual piece of bark less than 50 square cm."

Argument for bark removal

What are the post treatment levels of infestation (with and without bark) compared with pre-treatment levels? Overall, from the studies presented there is either: a) no significant difference between infestation levels of treated and untreated wood; or b) differences identified are related to the species of insect which may prefer treated or untreated wood. Supporting information from a North American study (IFQRG 2005-27) is summarised in the Table below  (Data are numbers of beetles per cm2):

Bark Size

Bark Beetle (Control)

Bark Beetle (HT)

Bark Borer (Control)

Bark Borer (HT)

25 cm2





100% Coverage





100 cm2





ISPM Marking

Sample ISPM logo showing the MB for methyl bromide treatment of the wood.

  • IPPC certification symbol.

  • XX: represents the two letter ISO country code or ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code (e.g. AU for Australia, US for United States, NZ for New Zealand, GB for United Kingdom).

  • 00: represents the unique certification number issued to NPPOs (regulating agencies that oversee the individual wood packaging manufacturers). Inclusion of this certification number ensures that the wood packaging material can be traced back to the NPPO/auditing agency.

  • 1111: represents the unique certification number issued to the treatment provider and/or manufacturer. Inclusion of this certification number ensures that the wood packaging material can be traced back to the treatment provider and/or the manufacturer.

  • YY: represents the treatment applied to the wood packaging material:

  • HT is the code for heat treatment to a minimum of 56 °C (133 °F) for a minimum of 30 minutes

  • MB is the code for methyl bromide fumigation.

  • DUN: represents the code for when the solid wood material is used for dunnage. The "DUN" Dunnage code is not applied to manufactured wood packaging, only loose lumber/timbers to help secure products being shipped.

The ISPM 15 compliant stamp may include further information as producers and suppliers may choose to include additional information for identification purposes.

Internationally accepted types of treatment

  • HT (Heat Treatment) - The wood needs to be heated until its core reaches 56 °C for at least 30 minutes.

  • Steady Heat Treatment (HT): Standard procedure conducted in heating chambers;

  • Kiln-dried (KD): Similar to the standard HT, but it also requires moisture's standards;

  • Mobile Heat Treatment (HT): Heat treatment conducted in heating chambers installed in trucks. Allows the treatment to be done anywhere.

  • Portable Chamber Process (PCP - HT): Heat treatment conducted in portable chambers made of thermal fabric. Allows the treatment to be done anywhere, but with lower costs. The process' patent requirement belongs to the Brazilian company Fitolog Pest Control;

  • Fast Container Connector (FCC - HT): Heat treatment conducted directly in containers by a mobile heating unit. Its a simplified variation of PCP. Ideal for ports and terminals.

  • MB (Methyl Bromide) - Requires to completely fill an area with gaseous pesticide (methyl bromide). This method was only allowed until December 2015.

  • Container Fumigation: The container where the wooden packaging is placed is completely filled with Methyl Bromide. After a 24-hour quarantine, the container is aerated and the wood/cargo is released;

  • Tent Fumigation: The wooden packaging is covered with a specific type of tent, sealed to the ground with weight. The tent is completely filled with methyl bromide. After a 24-hour quarantine, the tent is removed and the wood/cargo is released;

Countries participating in ISPM 15

Although this is only a reference, confirmation with the export authority when exporting to another country is required. This is a complete list as of July 1, 2010.

Countries and their approximate ISPM 15 Adoption Date:

Argentina: June 2006European Union: Mar 2005Indonesia: Sept 2009
Australia: Sept 2004AustriaIsrael: June 2009
Bolivia: July 2005BelgiumJamaica: January 2011
Brazil: June 2005BulgariaJapan: Apr 2007
Bulgaria: Jan 2006CroatiaJordan: Nov 2005
Canada: Sept 2005CyprusKenya: Jan 2006
Chile: June 2005Czech RepublicLebanon: Mar 2006
China: Jan 2006DenmarkMalaysia: Jan 2010
Colombia: Sept 2005EstoniaMexico: Sept 2005
Costa Rica: Mar 2006FinlandNew Zealand: April 2003
Cuba: Oct 2008FranceNicaragua: Feb 2006
Dominican: July 2006GermanyNigeria: Sept 2004
Ecuador: Sept 2005GreeceNorway: July 2008
Egypt: Oct 2005HungaryOman: Dec 2006

IrelandParaguay: June 2005

ItalyPeru: Mar 2005

LatviaPhilippines: June 2005

LithuaniaSeychelles: Mar 2006

LuxembourgSouth Africa: Jan 2005

MaltaSouth Korea: June 2005

NetherlandsSri Lanka: Mar 2004

PolandSwitzerland: Mar 2005

PortugalSyria: April 2006

RomaniaThailand: February 2010

SlovakiaTaiwan: Jan 2009

SloveniaEthiopia 2006

SpainTrinidad & Tobago: July 2010

SwedenTurkey: Jan 2006

United Kingdom.United States

Guatemala: Sept 2005Ukraine: Oct 2005

Honduras: Feb 2006Venezuela: June 2005

India: Nov 2004Vietnam: June 2005

Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, also known as the SPS Agreement, is an international treaty of the World Trade Organization. It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and entered into force with the establishment of the WTO at the beginning of 1995. Broadly, the sanitary and phytosanitary (‘SPS’) measures covered by the agreement are those aimed at the protection of human, animal or plant life or health from certain risks. 

Under the SPS agreement, the WTO sets constraints on member-states' policies relating to food safety (bacterial contaminants, pesticides, inspection and labelling) as well as animal and plant health (phytosanitation) with respect to imported pests and diseases. There are 3 standards organizations who set standards that WTO members should base their SPS methodologies on. As provided for in Article 3, they are the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Secreatariat of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

The treaty targets ‘scientifically unfounded’ barriers to trade disguised as health and safety regulations. 

The SPS agreement is closely linked to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which was signed in the same year and has similar goals. The TBT Emerged from the Tokyo Round of WTO negotiations and was negotiated with the aim of ensuring non-discrimination in the adoption and implementation of technical regulations and standards. 

History and Framework

As GATT’s preliminary focus had been lowering tariffs, the framework that preceded the SPS Agreement was not adequately equipped to deal with the problems of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade and the need for an independent agreement addressing this became critical. The SPS Agreement is an ambitious attempt to deal with NTBs arising from cross-national differences in technical standards without diminishing governments prerogative to implement measures to guard against diseases and pests. 

Main Provisions

  • Article 1 – General Provisions - Outlines the application of the Agreement.

  • Annex A.1 – Definition of SPS measures.

  • Article 2 – Basic Rights and Obligations. Article 2.2 - requires measures to be based on sufficient scientific analysis. Article 2.3 - states that Members shall ensure that their sanitary and phytosanitary measures do not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between Members where identical or similar conditions prevail, including between their own territory and that of other Members. Sanitary and phytosanitary measures shall not be applied in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on international trade.

  • Article 3 – Harmonization. Article 3.1- To harmonize sanitary and phytosanitary measures on as wide a basis as possible, Members shall base their sanitary or phytosanitary measures on international standards, guidelines or recommendations, where they exist, except as otherwise provided for in this Agreement, and in particular in paragraph 3. Article 3.3 – allows Members to implement SPS measures higher than if they were basing them on international standards where there is a scientific justification or the Member determines the measure to be appropriate in accordance with 5.1-5.8.

  • Annex A.3 – outlines the standard-setting bodies.

  • Article 5 – Risk Assessment and Determination of the Appropriate Level of SPS Protection. Article 5.1 - Members shall ensure that their sanitary or phytosanitary measures are based on an assessment, as appropriate to the circumstances, of the risks to human, animal or plant life or health, taking into account risk assessment techniques developed by the relevant international organizations.

  • Annex A.4 – outlines risk assessment process.

  • Article 5.5 - each Member shall avoid arbitrary or unjustifiable distinctions in the levels it considers to be appropriate in different situations, if such distinctions result in discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade. Article 5.7– echoes the ‘Precautionary Principle’ where there is no science available with which to justify a measure. 


Some of the most important WTO ‘cases’ regarding the implementation of SPS measures include:

EC – Hormones (Beef Hormone Dispute) (1998) 

Japan – Agricultural Products (1999) 

Australia – Salmon (1999) 

Japan – Apples (2003) 

Genetically modified organisms

In 2003, the United States challenged a number of EU laws restricting the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in a dispute known as EC-Biotech, arguing they are “unjustifiable” and illegal under SPS agreement. In May 2006, the WTO's dispute resolution panel issued a complex ruling which took issue with some aspects of the EU's regulation of GMOs, but dismissed many of the claims made by the USA. A summary of the decision can be found here.

Hormone-treated beef

Main article: Beef Hormone Dispute

Another prominent SPS case is the hormone-treated beef case. In 1996, the United States and Canada challenged before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) a number of EU directives prohibiting the importation and sale of meat and meat products treated with certain growth hormones. The complainants alleged that the EU directives violated, among other things, several provisions of the SPS Agreement. The EU contended that the presence of the banned hormones in food may present a risk to consumers' health and that, as a consequence, the directives were justified under several WTO provisions authorizing the adoption of trade-restrictive measures that are necessary to protect human health. In 1997 and 1998, the WTO adjudicating bodies admitted USA and Canada claims and invited the EU to bring the directives into conformity with WTO law before end of May 1999. EU did not comply and the DSB authorized the USA and Canada to take countermeasures against the EU. The countermeasures took the form of increased custom duties applied by the USA and Canada on certain EU products, including the notorious Roquefort cheese. In 2004, while the ban on hormone-treated meat was still in place, the EU initiated before the DSB new proceedings seeking the lifting of the countermeasures applied by the USA and Canada. EU alleged that it had collected new scientific data evidencing that the banned hormones may cause harm to consumers. According to the EU, the new scientific data provides sufficient ground for the ban on hormones, which may no more be sanctioned by the countermeasures imposed by the USA and Canada. As of January 2007, the proceedings initiated by the EU were still pending.

Interaction with other World Trade Organization instruments

While Article 1.5 of the TBT precludes the inclusion of SPS measures from its ambit, in EC-Biotech, the panel recognised that situations could arise where a measure is only partly an SPS measure, and in those cases, the SPS part of the measure will be considered under the SPS Agreement. If a measure conforms with SPS, under Article 2.4 of the SPS Agreement, it is assumed that the measure falls within the scope of GATT, Article XX(b).


Economic Considerations. Trade in the products subject to SPS-type measures have the potential to result in significant economic gains for national economies. Favouring economic concerns over other important public health policy issues, however, is something that requires close scrutiny by governments and the international community. 

The SPS Agreement reflects the precautionary principle – a principle which allows them to act on the side of caution if there is no scientific certainty about potential threats to human health and the environment. Under Article 5.7 Members who enact provisional measures are obligated to seek further information on possible risks and review the measure ‘within a reasonable period of time’. The Appellate Body in Japan– Measures Affecting Agricultural Products, stated that the length of a ‘reasonable period of time’ is to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Under SPS rules, the burden of proof is on the complainant country to demonstrate that a measure violates Article 2.2 and Articles 5.1-5.8 before it can be regulated even though scientific evidence can never be conclusive and it is not possible to test for all health risks that could arise from importation of a certain product. 

Impact on Developing Countries. It is important that the views of developing countries are incorporated into the standard-setting process as the effect of exporting countries enacting SPS measures can be damaging to developing economies. This is partly due to these states not possessing the technology and resources needed to readily comply with certain SPS requirements. 

Impact of Consumer Pressure on adherence to the SPS Agreement. Some commentators pose that the WTO’s assumption that trade liberalisation enhances consumer welfare, has resulted in the SPS Agreement being ill-equipped to deal with trade restrictions put in place by governments responding to protectionist pressure from consumers. This was most noticeable in the Beef Hormones Dispute where, although the science pointed to the relative safety of the growth hormones in question, European consumers pressured governments to ban the import of hormone-treated beef. 

International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is a 1951 multilateral treaty overseen by the Food and Agriculture Organization that aims to secure coordinated, effective action to prevent and to control the introduction and spread of pests of plants and plant products. The Convention extends beyond the protection of cultivated plants to the protection of natural flora and plant products. It also takes into consideration both direct and indirect damage by pests, so it includes weeds.

The Convention created a governing body consisting of each party, known as the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, which oversees the implementation of the Convention. As of September 2015, the Convention has 182 parties, which includes 179 United Nations member states, the Cook Islands, Niue, and the European Union. The Convention is recognized by the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement) as the only international standard setting body for plant health.

While the IPPC's primary focus is on plants and plant products moving in international trade, the Convention also covers research materials, biological control organisms, germplasm banks, containment facilities, food aid, emergency aid and anything else that can act as a vector for the spread of plant pests – for example, containers, packaging materials, soil, vehicles, vessels and machinery.

The IPPC was created by member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The IPPC places emphasis on three core areas: international standard setting, information exchange and capacity development for the implementation of the IPPC and associated international phytosanitary standards. The Secretariat of the IPPC is housed at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, and is responsible for the coordination of core activities under the IPPC work program.

In recent years the Commission of Phytosanitary Measures of the IPPC has developed a strategic framework with the objectives of:

  • protecting sustainable agriculture and enhancing global food security through the prevention of pest spread;

  • protecting the environment, forests and biodiversity from plant pests;

  • facilitating economic and trade development through the promotion of harmonized scientifically based phytosanitary measures, and:

  • developing phytosanitary capacity for members to accomplish the preceding three objectives.

  • By focusing the Convention's efforts on these objectives, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures of the IPPC intends to:

  • Protect farmers from economically devastating pest and disease outbreaks.

  • Protect the environment from the loss of species diversity.

  • Protect ecosystems from the loss of viability and function as a result of pest invasions.

  • Protect industries and consumers from the costs of pest control or eradication.

  • Facilitate trade through International Standards that regulate the safe movements of plants and plant products.

  • Protect livelihoods and food security by preventing the entry and spread of new pests of plants into a country.

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International Standards For Phytosanitary Measures No. 15 (ISPM 15)

Internationally accepted types of treatmentInteraction with other World Trade Organization instruments


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