WTO members adopt roadmap for reducing technical barriers to trade
WTO members achieved a breakthrough at a 14-15 November meeting of the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) by agreeing on a list of recommendations that aim at reducing obstacles to trade and improving implementation of the WTO’s TBT Agreement.
Members also discussed 62 specific trade concerns at the committee meeting, including eight new concerns. In addition, the committee welcomed a new “best practices” guide for national TBT Enquiry Points.
8th Triennial review
Every three years, WTO members evaluate how they are applying the TBT Agreement. The review process started in November 2017 and was driven by members’ proposals for new work relating to specific topics addressed by the committee.
WTO members agreed on almost 30 recommendations that will improve the way members deal with standards, regulations and trade in the TBT committee.
The recommendations approved by members cover the following areas:
notifying final TBT regulations when adopted and making it easier to access them online;
improving access to national websites that make available all adopted final regulations;
notifying impact assessments conducted as part of regulatory processes;
improving the quality of information in notifications such as the products affected, relevant documents, and international standards used as a basis for the regulations;
enhancing coordination between regulators and TBT enquiry points, including through ePing.
Testing, inspection and certification:
work on guidelines to help regulators when choosing and designing conformity assessment procedures;
find better ways to avoid duplicating procedures or restricting trade in the area of conformity assessment.
Standards: Members agreed to hold a workshop on the role of gender in the development of standards. They also agreed to discuss best practices on incorporating standards by reference in regulation, taking account of existing guidelines and policy considerations.
Marking and labelling: Members agreed to discuss how to facilitate compliance with marking and labelling requirements for products.
Technical assistance: Members agreed to explore the feasibility of either expanding the present Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) to encompass measures covered by the TBT Agreement, or setting up a separate and dedicated TBT development facility
Organizing debates in the committee: Members agreed to apply new procedures for raising specific trade concerns (STCs), on a trial basis, in order to give members more time to engage with each other and domestic stakeholders in advance of meetings
Specific trade concerns
WTO members discussed a total of 62 specific trade concerns, 8 of which were new. Below is a summary of the new concerns. A full list of the trade concerns is available in the Annex. For more information on previous trade concerns see the 19-21 June 2018 and 20-22 March 2018 meeting summaries.
European Union – Rules and procedures on compliance
China and Canada expressed concerns with proposed changes to EU rules which require exporters to identify or employ economic operators located in the EU that can provide compliance information, and to display their name and contact information on product labels. Canada and China said that this requirement would create financial and administrative burdens for exporters, particularly for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) and the e-commerce sector. In addition, China urged the EU to keep market surveillance under the control of government authorities, and not to extend it to non-governmental bodies.
The EU said product safety and compliance is an important issue for consumers and that the proposal aims at increasing consumer trust and confidence in products bought online. The proposal introduces an updated framework for market surveillance to ensure better effectiveness in light of the growing importance of e-commerce. The EU said the proposal is under legislative discussions, and that it will keep WTO members informed of developments.
Chile – Description and labelling of milk products deriving from milk
The EU and US expressed concern with Chile’s draft law which does not allow cheeses made from powdered milk or recombined/reconstituted milk to be labelled as “cheese”, but to be labelled differently. According to the EU, this is not in line with the Codex General Standard for Cheese, CODEX STAN 283-1978. The EU said that changing labels specifically for the Chilean market would put an unnecessary burden on industries and could adversely impact trade.
Chile said the draft law is under debate in its parliament. Chile said it would keep members informed of any updates through the notification process.
Russian Federation – Labelling of various products including clothes, shoes and tobacco.
The EU expressed its concern over a new Russian measure imposing mandatory labelling on a wide range of products, including tobacco, perfumes, clothing including footwear and pharmaceutical products. The EU urged Russia to notify the measure to the WTO and to allow members to comment. Information, they said, is needed about the means of compliance so that industry could adapt.
Russia said it published a list of products for which the identification and traceability labelling will apply and the date for the introduction of this system to different products. According to Russia, the purpose of this measure is to improve trademark protection and to protect sensitive products against counterfeiting. Russia said this measure does not fall under the scope of the TBT Agreement.
Brazil – Standards of wine and derivates of grapes and wine products.
The EU expressed concerns with an amended regulation on identity and quality standards for wines. According to the EU, this regulation may cause future disruptions of EU wine exports to Brazil due to differences with standards adopted by the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). The EU invited Brazil to consider the recommendations of the OIV when preparing its regulations on wine and to accept imported wine made according to OIV-authorized practices.
Brazil said its legislation was developed in accordance the provisions of the TBT Agreement, and that several opportunities for comment were provided. According to Brazil, comments received from the EU in the development of the measure were mostly taken on board in its final version. Brazil said that OIV standards were used as a basis for developing the measure, except when these standards were ineffective or inappropriate for the fulfilment of the legitimate objectives of the measure. Brazilian authorities also gave a 360-day transition period to allow industry time to adapt.
Chile – Chemical substances and mixtures
Mexico expressed its concern with a draft regulation under development in Chile establishing criteria for the classification, labelling and risk assessment of hazardous chemical substances and mixtures. Issues of specific concern included a lack of clarity regarding information on compliance, and the alignment of the measure with international standards (the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals – or GHS). Mexico asked Chile to provide the technical justification and scientific basis for the measure.
Chile noted that the regulation is not yet in force, and that the responsible regulatory agency was in the process of responding to comments received form domestic and international stakeholders. Chile also said it would keep the committee informed on further developments.
Egypt – Halal requirements for poultry parts and offal
The US said that its exporters of poultry parts and offal are unable to access the Egyptian market, despite demonstrated assurance that they comply with Egypt’s Halal and food safety standards.
Egypt responded that it is trying to strike a balance between verifying the compliance of imported goods with Halal requirements, and ensuring this does not impose excessive trade burdens on its partners. Egypt said that its authorities are facing difficulties in verifying the compliance of poultry parts with Halal requirements, including identifying the source of all imported parts and the sourcing partners. In this context, Egypt is limiting the importation to whole poultry that fully compliance with Halal requirements in order to protect consumers.
GCC – Restrictions on hazardous substances in electronic and electrical devices and equipment
The US asked for clarification from members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding a draft regulation aiming at restricting the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. The US asked if each GCC member will implement the regulation separately or simultaneously, and whether the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO) technical regulation will replace national regulations currently in place, such as in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the US inquired about the applicable conformity assessment procedures, and whether these would be recognized by other GCC countries. The EU expressed interested in the questions raised by the US.
Kuwait, on behalf of the GCC, said that the regulation is still under discussion and that the GCC and GSO will coordinate and respond to all questions raised.
Dominican Republic – Regulation on cosmetic and hygiene products
Mexico and the US expressed concern with requirements imposed by the Dominican Republic on cosmetic and hygiene products which they believe are more trade restrictive than necessary. Mexico encouraged the Dominican Republic to notify this technical draft regulation to the committee and allow for comments, and to provide the scientific basis for the measure.
The Dominican Republic said that the draft regulation covers a number of aspects such as production, quality control, marketing, storage and sale of these products to ensure that they comply with health requirements and laws in the country. This proposal was subject to national consultation and was published on the web portal of the Ministry of Health, where a number of comments were received from national and international stakeholders. The draft regulation will be revised based on those comments and will be notified to the WTO afterwards, the Dominican Republic said.
TBT Enquiry Point Guide Launched
Over 2,750 notifications related to product requirements have already been circulated in 2018, a process involving 80% of member TBT Enquiry Points. Improving the functioning of Enquiry Points is key to making transparency work.
At the committee meeting, the pdf TBT Enquiry Point Guide (1.25 MB) was launched. The guide was developed in response to a request by the TBT Committee at the end of 201, that the WTO secretariat prepare a guide on best practices for enquiry points. In 2016, the secretariat conducted an online survey for enquiry points to collect information on members’ experiences. The results of the survey formed the basis for this guide. Input was received from 66 members and one acceding country.
The guide compiles practical information on how Enquiry Points are performing their tasks and overcoming everyday challenges, drawing from the practices of members It is structured according to the tasks that an enquiry point or other governmental entity might normally undertake when implementing the TBT Agreement’s transparency provisions. The guide includes insights ranging from different models for coordination with domestic stakeholders to useful tips on how to complete the TBT notification format. This new tool supports the WTO’s TBT training and capacity-building activities for enhancing the capacity of Enquiry Points.
ePing update: notifications alert system
The committee received an update on ePing, the notification alert system for TBT and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. ePing enables swift access to regulatory information and facilitates dialogue among the public and private sector in addressing potential trade problems at an early stage. Since its launch 2 years ago, over 5,000 users from 169 countries have registered on ePing.