Specific trade concerns — toy safety and GMOs in focus

WTO members use the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee to discuss each other’s product regulations and standards, which are at times problematic for producers and traders. Governments use product regulations to protect consumer safety and health or to give consumers information. However, they need to do it in a way that does not make trade in these products unnecessarily burdensome. A total of 50 specific trade concerns were raised at this meeting, 12 of which were new and 38 were carried over from the March meeting.

The full list is here.

Toy safety featured high on the agenda, totalling five trade concerns, among which two were new. Discussions focused on how to ensure that toys do not pose a health risk for children, for instance due to presence of hazardous chemicals or unsafe design, while still allowing for regular international trade in toys. In some cases, safety standards differ from one country to another, or testing procedures may be duplicative, burdensome, or specific to one market.

The United States (US) voiced new concerns with toy regulations of France and Turkey. The US said France’s proposed ban on BPA (Bisphenol A) — as part of the amendment of its framework health law — could have a significant impact on international trade in toys. The European Union (EU) said it was premature to discuss this issue in the Committee as the French proposal was still in the legislative process. Turkey’s new inspection procedures under Toy Communique 2015/10 were mentioned as a trade irritant due to duplicative and inappropriate testing, resulting in toy shipments being delayed for several weeks in port. Turkey said the procedures are applied equally to foreign and domestically produced toys and are meant to protect children’s health and safety.

Three concerns were carried over from past meetings with toy safety regulations of Indonesia (Indonesian national standards for obligatory toy safety, concern of EU, Japan and US), Saudi Arabia (GSO marking requirements for toys: G-mark, concern of Canada), and the EU (limits for hexavalent chromium in toys (2009/48/EC), concern of China).

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and crops were the subject of two new specific trade concerns on regulations by the EU and Chinese Taipei. WTO members follow different approaches to managing GMOs in food and animal feed, including when informing consumers through labelling and this sometimes creates trade challenges.

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Paraguay and the US aired concerns about a proposed revision of EU regulation (EC)1829/2003 on GMOs (G/TBT/N/EU/284). The revision would enable EU member states to ban certain GMOs for over-riding public interest reasons, even if the GMO had been authorized at the EU level as not posing a health or environmental risk. Concerned members urged the EU to also notify the proposed revision to the WTO Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) Committee. The EU said the proposed revision did not introduce any restriction or ban but enabled EU member states to opt out of a GMO authorization by the EU. Free circulation of GMOs in the EU internal market would be preserved under the proposal as member states would not be permitted to restrict or ban the import and circulation of GMOs — only their use.

Canada, New Zealand and the US raised questions about new labelling requirements put in place by Chinese Taipei to indicate the presence of GMOs in food. They questioned why the threshold for labelling had been lowered (meaning that more products had to be labelled as containing GMOs), and argued that the labels could mislead consumers and create the impression that food containing GMOs was unsafe. Chinese Taipei explained that its three new labelling regulations were designed to provide information to consumers.

Other concerns discussed at the meeting related to food labelling, cosmetics, IT products, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, telecommunications equipment, chemicals and medical devices.


Members’ proposals to improve the committee’s work

Discussions to improve the committee’s work under the Seventh Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement picked up pace as members put forward eleven new proposals. Four proposals were introduced at the March meeting. The purpose of the review is to identify opportunities to deepen the work of the Committee and set the work programme for 2016-2018. Members are scheduled to adopt the Seventh Review report at the next Committee meeting in November.

New proposals concern:

  • conformity assessment : easing procedures related to testing, inspection and certification of products
  • transparency : facilitating notification of draft regulations by members to the Committee and their dissemination to national stakeholders
  • standards : adopting international standards  as a basis for members’ regulations in order to facilitate trade
  • regulatory cooperation between members : encouraging early cooperation between members on emerging regulatory issues to avoid barriers to trade
  • operation of the committee : members discussed adding additional topics to the thematic discussions such as food labelling and energy efficiency
  • good regulatory practices : public consultation, regulatory impact assessment (RIAs) and other mechanisms applied in the regulatory process to help avoid future trade problems (see further explanation below.)

The proposals were put forward by Australia, China, Japan (G/TBT/W/412 and  G/TBT/W/413), Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Ukraine and the United States (G/TBT/W/411 and G/TBT/W/415).


No development on good regulatory practices  

Members’ work on “good regulatory practices” — to endorse a voluntary list of steps and mechanisms that governments may consider when setting, adopting and applying product requirements — could not be finalized due to continued disagreements between members over the need for a disclaimer. Newly-elected Chairperson Alana Maria Lanza Suazo of Honduras promised to continue consulting with members towards reaching a solution to the impasse.


Next TBT Committee week:

  • Tuesday, 3 November (whole day):  Third Thematic Session on 7th Triennial Review (informal meeting)
  • Wednesday, 4 November
    • Morning:  TBT@20 Event (WTO Secretariat event)
    • Afternoon: TBT Committee regular meeting
  • Thursday, 5 November (whole day): TBT Committee regular meetings
  • Friday, 6 November (morning): TBT Committee regular meeting

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