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Twenty-second Annual Review of the implementation and operation of the WTO TBT Agreement


Twenty-second Annual Review of the implementation and operation of the WTO TBT Agreement

Twenty-second Annual Review of the implementation and operation of the WTO TBT Agreement
Photo credit: ICF Africa

The WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade will conduct its twenty-second Annual Review of the implementation and operation of the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) under Article 15.3 at its next meeting on 29-30 March 2017. This document contains information on developments in the Committee relating to the implementation and operation of the TBT Agreement from 1 January to 31 December 2016.

Executive summary

In 2016, the TBT Committee:

  • oversaw the launch of “ePing”, a new SPS and TBT notification alert system developed in cooperation with ITC and UNDESA;

  • set a record on transparency: a total of 2,336 notifications were submitted by 79 Members in 2016 – the most notifications submitted in one year in the Committee’s history. The majority of notifications (76%) in 2016 were submitted by developing and Least-developed Members

  • discussed 173 specific trade concerns, a record number. Among these the Committee addressed its 500th STC. DG Azevêdo said on 9 March 2016: “Today WTO Members discussed the 500th specific trade concern. It sounds technical but actually this is about dealing with all sorts of real-life issues that we all care about – from the use of chemicals in toys to the sugar, salt and fat content of our food. The WTO provides a forum for members to raise and resolve these concerns thereby avoiding them escalating into disputes. This is the unseen but essential daily work that keeps trade flowing – and it can only be done through the WTO.”

  • held seven thematic sessions and launched a new stream of work on regulatory cooperation between Members, including discussions on energy efficiency and food (nutritional) labelling

  • held its Eighth Special Meeting on Procedures for Information Exchange

  • was informed about technical assistance activities delivered by the WTO Secretariat. A total of 37 TBT technical assistance activities were delivered in various formats during 2016; 15 of these were organized specifically on the TBT Agreement (Section 5)

  • was informed about the launch of a new WTO ISO Standards Information Gateway. This gateway provides information on standardizing bodies that have accepted the Code of Good Practice and, if available, their work programmes; and,

  • granted ad hoc observer status to the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ).

Ms. Esther Peh (Singapore) was elected by the Committee as its Chairperson for 2016 and three regular meetings were held: on 9-10 March, 15-16 June and 9-10 November. In addition to the review of measures, during these meetings, seven thematic sessions were organized. Representatives of the ACP, ARSO, BIPM, Codex Alimentarius, CROSQ, IEC, ISO, OECD, OIML, UNECE and WHO updated the Committee on activities relevant to the work of the TBT Committee, including on technical assistance.

Review of TBT Measures

Notifications of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures

Trends in new notifications and follow-up (addenda, corrigenda, revision)

The TBT Committee set a record in 2016 for total number of notifications (2,336) submitted in one year. This total comprises 1,653 new notifications of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures, 651 addenda or corrigenda to existing notifications and 32 revisions. There was wide participation in submissions of notifications in 2016: 79 Members submitted at least one notification during the year. Compared to 2015, the total number of notifications rose by 17.5%. Compared to the previous peak in 2014, the number of notifications rose by 4%, following the trend of a steady increase since 2012. Since the entry into force of the TBT agreement and up to 31 December 2016, 134 Members submitted 27,726 notifications.

Over the past fifteen years, the number of new notifications has tripled, largely due to an increase in notifications from developing Members. The use of addenda and corrigenda has also increased remarkably and since 2011 more than 500 addenda and corrigenda were notified every year. Between 1995 and 2016, the US (1465), Brazil (623), Ecuador (585), Mexico (366) and Colombia (351) have submitted the most addenda and corrigenda. The number of revisions submitted is relatively low but also grew over the years; since 2012 the WTO received about 28 revisions per year. The Members that notified the most revisions since 1995 were China (39), Brazil (21), Thailand (17), Canada (16) and South Africa (16).

Notifications by Member

The US, Brazil, Israel, EU, Korea, Chile, Mexico, Kenya, Egypt and Uganda notified the most TBT notifications in 2016. Several Members among the top notifying Members in 2016 do not appear among the top notifying Members for the period 1995 to 2016, namely Chile, Kenya, Egypt and Uganda.

Taking a closer look at the five top notifying Members over the past ten years (2007-2016), there is limited fluctuation in the number of notifications submitted. Exceptions to this are the number of notifications submitted by the US over the last two years, which increased significantly from 2014 to 2016. In addition, China and Saudi Arabia experienced peaks in submission of notifications in 2008-2009, and 2012-2013, respectively.

Notifications by development status and region

The rise in new notifications since 2005 is to a large extent explained by a very marked increase in notifications submitted by developing Members. Again in 2016 the majority of notifications (66%) were submitted by developing Members (90). Least-developed Members (36) were responsible for 10% of new notifications in 201614 and developed Members (38) for 24%.

Members in the Middle East submitted about one quarter of all new notifications in 2016, the most of any regional group. African Members submitted 18%, followed by Members in Asia and North America, each submitting 16%. Compared to 2015, the main change was an increase in notifications from the Middle East and North America, and a decrease in notifications from Asia.

Stated objectives of notifications

“Protection of human health or safety” was overwhelmingly the primary objective stated in new notifications submitted in 2016. The second most cited objective was “Prevention of deceptive practices”, followed by “Protection of the environment” and “Quality requirements”. When comparing this with the most cited objectives for the period 1995 to 2016, the top five objectives remain unchanged.

Other TBT notifications

Notifications under Article 10.7

Four agreements were notified under Article 10.7 in 2016, all of them between Brazil and other Members.19 Since 1995, 140 Agreements, four revisions and four corrigenda have been notified under article 10.7.

Notifications under Article 15.2

In 2016, eight notifications under Article 15.2 of the TBT Agreement with respect to measures in existence or taken to ensure the implementation and administration of the TBT Agreement have been submitted. Five Members notified for the first time under Article 15.2: Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Kazakhstan Vanuatu and Yemen. Three Members revised their previous notifications: Japan, South Africa and Ukraine.

Notifications under the Code of Good Practice for the preparation, adoption and application of standards

In the context of cooperation between the WTO and ISO on notifications under the Code of Good Practice, in 2016, a new WTO ISO Standards Information Gateway was launched. It provides information on standardizing bodies that have accepted the Code of Good Practice and, if available, their work programmes. The WTO forms for the acceptance of and withdrawal from the Code of Good Practice as well as the form to notify work programmes can also be found on the gateway.

In 2016, three standardizing bodies notified their acceptance of the Code of Good Practice: the Afghan National Standards Authority (Afghanistan), the Institute of Standards of Cambodia (Cambodia) and Bureau Haïtien de Normalisation (Haiti). There were no withdrawals in 2016. With respect to work programmes, 12 notifications on work programmes were submitted in 2016, 10 of which contained a link to the organization’s website, a specific link to the work programme or an electronic version of the work programme.

Between 1995 and 2016, 178 standardizing bodies from 138 Members or observers have accepted the Code of Good Practice. In addition, one regional standardizing body has accepted the Code of Good Practice: the African Organisation for Standardisation. 14 standardizing bodies have withdrawn from the Code of Good Practice since 1995.

Specific Trade Concerns

The TBT Committee provides Members with a forum to discuss trade issues related to technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures and standards, prepared, adopted or applied by other Members. These discussions are referred to as “specific trade concerns” (STCs) and relate either to proposed measures, or to measures currently in force. Members thus have the opportunity to review these concerns in a multilateral setting, and to seek further information and clarification, working towards mutually acceptable solutions.

Trends in STCs

In 2016, Members reviewed a total of 173 STCs, a record number. The number of new concerns, however, dropped to 31, that is 6 less than in 2015. This continues a new trend in declining number of new concerns raised in the Committee: in 2015, the number of new trade concerns dropped by 21% compared to 2014. On the other hand, the number of times previously raised STC were discussed continues to increase and more than makes up for the declining number of new concerns raised. In 2016, Members discussed 142 previously raised concerns in TBT Committee meetings (in 2015, this number was 124; in 2014, 100).

A new calculation method has been applied in this year’s Annual Review for what concerns the category “previously raised STCs”. In previous reports, an STC raised in the Committee in a given year was only included once in the statistics, either as a new or as a previously raised STC, regardless of the number of times the STC was raised that year. An STC raised for the first time in June and again in November, for example, was included as new, but not as previously raised. This method underreported the number of previously raised STCs. In this review, an STC is counted each time it has been raised in a TBT Committee meeting. If raised for the first time, it is counted as a new STC. If it is raised again, it is counted as a previously raised STC. This gives a more accurate reflection of the number of concerns actually discussed in the Committee in any given year.

STCs by Member

As in 2015, the EU, US and Canada most frequently raised STCs in the Committee, followed by Australia, Japan, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Korea and Chile. The large majority of these STCs are not new but raised previously.

The EU and US have raised the most new STCs, more than 200 each. Canada (100), Mexico (78), Japan (74), China (61), Australia (57) Korea (56), Brazil (47) and New Zealand (37) are also among the 10 Members most frequently raising new STCs.

Members subject to STCs

Measures of India, the Russian Federation and Indonesia have been most frequently subject to concerns raised in the Committee in 2016, followed by Ecuador, Brazil, Korea, Thailand, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Colombia. Most of there were previously raised STCs, only 12 of the 96 concerns were new.

The EU, China and the US were most frequently subject to new STCs raised in the Committee between 1995 and 2016.

STCs by region and development status

In 2016, Members from North America raised 20 new STCs, from Europe 17 new STCs, and from Asia 14 new STCs. Members from the Middle East did not raise any new STCs. On the other hand, Members from Asia were most frequently subject to new STCs, followed by Members from Europe and CIS.

In 2016, about one third of the new STCs were submitted by developing Members, one third by both developing and developed Members and one third by developed Members alone. No LDC Member raised a new STC during the year. These shares have fluctuated over the years, but in general developing countries have become more active in raising new STCs.

Types of concerns raised in STCs

Of the issues highlighted by concerned Members in new STCs raised in 2016, 22 dealt with “Unnecessary barriers to trade”, 19 with “Further information and clarification”, 15 with “Transparency”, 15 with “Rationale and legitimacy” and 13 with “International standards”

Stated objectives of measures subject to STCs

Information about the stated objective of measures subject to STCs may be derived from the notification itself, or through the discussion of the particular measure in the Committee. By far the most frequently stated objective of measures subject to STCs between 1995-2016 was “Protection of human health and safety”, matching the main objective cited in TBT notifications.

Relation between notifications and STCs

When comparing the number of new notifications submitted versus new STCs raised from 1995 to 2016, a similar upward trend characterizes both sets of data. However, since 2014, the number of new STCs has decreased somewhat.

61% of the new STCs raised in 2016 concerned a measure notified to the WTO. While this number is quite low compared to the general trend in the last decade, it represents a 12% increase compared to 2015.

Disputes involving provisions of the TBT Agreement

Since 1995, 52 disputes have cited the TBT Agreement in their respective requests for consultations, the first formal step to initiate a WTO case. Important developments during 2016 included:

  • The establishment and composition by the DSB of compliance proceedings (second recourse by Mexico) with respect to US measures on canned tuna labelling;

  • The establishment by the DSB of a Panel concerning certain Indonesian measures concerning the importation of beef;

  • The establishment by the DSB of a Panel concerning certain measures by the Russian Federation affecting the importation of railway equipment;

  • The composition of a Panel established by the DSB in 2015 concerning certain Indonesian measures affecting exports of chicken meat and products.


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