THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.
The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.
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Health-related concerns continue to dominate the agenda of the TBT Committee. Indeed, since 1995, almost half of all notifications made by WTO members (of draft measures, or changes to existing ones) specify the protection of human health or safety as the objective of the measure (sometimes among others). Over the last few meetings, discussions have been particularly heated on issues related to tobacco — but regulations aimed at reducing tobacco consumption are far from the only health-related concern being discussed in the Committee.
In general, whenever health-related concerns arise, members support the objective of protecting health, but, on occasion, they challenge how the measure is designed and/or implemented; the concern is that trade may be unnecessarily affected. An overview of specific trade measures discussed in the Committee in 2011, including those related to health, is contained in the Committee’s Annual Review, which was adopted at this meeting (G/TBT/31).
Tobacco, alcohol and caffeine
At the March meeting, discussions continued on tobacco. In particular, several members took the floor to challenge the requirements set out in draft measures developed in Australia and Brazil. In a new development, on 13 March 2012, Ukraine requested consultations with Australia under the dispute settlement system concerning Australian laws and regulations that impose plain packaging requirements on tobacco products (more detail can be found here and here).
On alcohol, the EU and Mexico expressed concerns about a Russian draft regulation on the safety of alcoholic beverages. This regulation covers definitions, rules for sales (product marking, labelling), product identification, safety requirements (ingredients and processes), and packaging. The European Union stressed that if adopted in its current form, a significant number of EU exports of wines, sprits and other alcoholic beverages would no longer be allowed on the Russian market. Russia said that the regulation had been drafted according to the transparency principles laid down in the TBT Agreement, and that members had been given adequate opportunity to comment. Furthermore, Russia said the regulation was in line with its accession commitments.
On another health-related matter, the European Union expressed concern about a draft decree amending legislation in Mexico that would affect the marketing of drinks with added caffeine; the measure is aimed, inter alia, at restricting the sale of drinks with added caffeine to persons less than 18 years old.
Members also raised concerns with respect to various environmental-related measures. These concerns dealt more specifically with:
- a Colombian draft decree establishing provisions to promote the use of biofuels (G/TBT/N/COL/96 and addenda — raised by Mexico)
- a Korean standard for thin-film solar panels (raised by the United States)
- various Mexican energy-labelling measures (G/TBT/N/MEX/214 — raised by the United States)
- a draft modification of two Colombian resolutions dealing with the control of emissions from heavy vehicles with a diesel motor (raised by Mexico and the United States)
- a Draft Commission Regulation on eco-design requirements for air conditioners and comfort fans (G/TBT/N/EEC/362 — raised by China)
- France’s Grenelle 2 Law, which includes provisions on product carbon footprint labelling and environmental lifecycle analysis (raised by Argentina).
Every three years, delegations discuss how to improve the implementation of the TBT Agreement. Essentially, this is a review of various “horizontal” matters that the Committee deals with: it includes in-depth discussion on, for example, transparency, conformity assessment, technical assistance, etc. The process normally concludes with a set of recommendations and decisions that guide the Committee’s future work. During this year’s triennial review, members are likely to discuss in particular “Good Regulatory Practice” (the development of guidance on how to regulate efficiently when actually applying the TBT Agreement) and the use of “relevant international standards”. Members have agreed on a deadline for proposals of 1 June 2012. This process is scheduled to conclude in November 2012.
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