TBT Learning Event on Labelling

(21-22 October 2003)

The TBT Committee held a Learning Event on Labelling on 21-22 October 2003. The event was an opportunity for Members to share experiences and ideas related to labelling. Ten presentations were made, six of which were by developing country Members. The presentations were case study oriented, and fifteen labelling initiatives were discussed (relating to agricultural products, energy efficiency, food, beverages and tobacco).


Prior to the event, the Committee identified a number of issues that presentations could usefully address:

— a description of the nature of the labelling initiative;
— the coverage and objective of the labelling initiative;
— approaches used within the initiative to ensure conformity (e.g. government certification, third party certification or self-declaration);
— information on relevant implementing bodies (e.g. government authorities or private agencies);
— if the requirements are voluntary or mandatory and how that was determined;
— relevant international standards and transparency procedures that were used in the development of the labelling initiative;
— the implementation and the effectiveness of the labelling initiative;
— enforcement measures, in the case of mandatory schemes;
— the effects on market access (i.e. positive or negative), and in particular for developing countries;
— whether concerns have been raised by trading partners about the potential adverse trade effects of the scheme, and how these concerns have been taken into account;
— possibilities for technical assistance and special and differential treatment to developing countries; and
— the possibility of accepting technical regulations/standards of other Members as equivalent.

A number of horizontal issues were raised. With regard to market access, participants stressed that labelling schemes need to be as least trade restrictive as possible and that adherence to the obligations under the TBT Agreement could facilitate this. In this respect, the issue of mandatory vs. voluntary labelling schemes was brought up several times. Participants also noted the importance of labelling schemes being developed in a transparent manner. For example, the early communication of changes to labelling requirements could allow exporters to respond appropriately. It was noted that many of the labelling schemes used relevant international standards as a basis. In a few cases, the schemes had cooperative arrangements or recognition of equivalence between Members. Generally, the schemes required some form of testing and/or certification for conformity assessment.

In nearly all of the case studies presented, it was stressed that labelling requirements were often only one component of a larger effort to achieve a policy objective. It was recognized that different measures were needed to achieve an overall policy objective, and that trade measures were not always the answer.