Import bans on food products due to health concerns will only be applicable to regions within a country – not the country itself – the WTO has agreed. 

Governments will only be able to impose import restrictions on specific problem regions, rather than whole countries, the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary measures committee has decided.

Informal consensus has been reached on the guidance, so if not formally opposed, they will become formal WTO rules on 15 May.

A committee note said: “The key concept is recognition that an exporting region (part of a country or a border-straddling zone) is disease-free or pest-free (or has a lower incidence).”

The guidelines mean regional bans would not be challenged at the WTO as an illegal trade barrier.