World Trade Organization (WTO) members have adopted a new roadmap for reducing technical barriers to trade, having agreed on almost 30 recommendations they say will improve the way members deal with standards, regulations and trade.

During the 14-15 November meeting of the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), WTO members also discussed 62 specific trade concerns, including eight new concerns, and welcomed a new ‘best practices’ guide for national TBT Enquiry Points.

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. 

The recommendations approved by members cover the following areas: transparency; testing; inspection and certification; standards; marking and labelling; technical assistance; and organising debates in the committee.

Meanwhile, eight of the 62 specific trade concerns under discussion were new. 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. 

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In addition, the EU expressed its concern over a new Russian measure imposing mandatory labelling on a wide range of products, including clothing and footwear. 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.

In response, 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. 

The meeting also saw the launch of the TBT Enquiry Point Guide, which was developed in response to a request by the TBT Committee and is based on the findings of an online survey for enquiry points conducted by the secretariat in 2016.

The guide compiles practical information on how Enquiry Points are performing their tasks and overcoming everyday challenges and 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. The new tool, WTO says, supports its TBT training and capacity-building activities for enhancing the capacity of Enquiry Points. 

In addition, the WTO has also launched its new online database – the WTO Data portal – which brings together a wide range of statistical indicators on international trade and other WTO-related information.

Unveiled on Friday (16 November), the WTO Data portal offers both annual and short-term (quarterly and monthly) data on merchandise trade and trade in commercial services as well as information on bound, applied and preferential tariffs, non-tariff measures and Foreign Affiliate Trade Statistics. The WTO Data portal replaces the current statistics database.