TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE

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8th Triennial Review

Eight proposals are on the table for the 8th Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement. Two new proposals have been put forward by Brazil, covering transparency and notification practices, the organization of thematic sessions, good regulatory practices and regulatory impact assessments (G/TBT/W/460 and G/TBT/W/461). New proposals have been submitted by New Zealand on the topic of transparency (G/TBT/W/463) and by the United States (G/TBT/W/464) on domestic coordination and improving information in notifications.

A further proposal has been submitted by the European Union (G/TBT/W/462) on developing guidance for regulators in the area of conformity assessment procedures. Other proposals include two from South Africa (G/TBT/W/452 and G/TBT/W/453) and one from the United States (G/TBT/W/451) which were discussed in the last committee meeting which took place on 8 and 9 November 2017.

The review process started in November 2017 and is scheduled to be concluded at the 14-15 November 2018 meeting.

Every three years, WTO members evaluate how they are applying the TBT Agreement. The review is driven by members' proposals for new work, relating to specific topics addressed by the TBT Committee. The aim of the review is to improve implementation of the TBT Agreement based on members’ experiences (for instance, by developing guidelines or best practices), and to set a plan for future work by the Committee during 2019-2021.

Specific trade concerns

WTO members discussed a total of 56 specific trade concerns, six of which are new. Below is a summary of the new concerns. A full list of the trade concerns is available here.

1. China's environmental protection control standards for imported solid waste as raw materials

China has introduced new standards on environmental protection requirements for solid waste imported as raw materials. According to China, the objective of the new standards is protection of the ecosystem and the environment, the protection of human health and safety, and the protection of animal and plant life or health.

The European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Japan highlighted that the transition time (14 weeks) is not enough for the relevant industries to adapt to the measure. They also warned of the effect this measure would have on the environment if recycling alternatives were not found and the waste materials end up in landfills or are burned.

Members asked China if the standards apply to domestic operators in the same way as foreign ones and urged China to look into alternative measures to fulfil the same environmental goals in a less trade-restrictive manner.

China said its efforts to regulate imports of solid waste go hand in hand with efforts to promote improvements in domestic solid waste treatment and disposal, and that it would ensure a smooth transition and fulfilment of transparency obligations under WTO rules.

2. Israel's addendum to pharmacist regulations

Israel has introduced a new regulation that sets out a post-market control system for cosmetics, in line with EU regulations and international best practices. While welcoming Israel's efforts to harmonize, the European Union and the United States were concerned with certain aspects of the measure that appeared to impose additional administrative burdens on industry, and asked for a sufficient transition period.

Israel said the transition period will be at least one year to allow industry to adapt to the new regulation. However, the date of the final implementation had not been determined yet as the process for finalizing the regulations is still ongoing.

3. European Union's Renewable Energy Directive

Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala expressed concern with proposed amendments to an EU directive that affects their exports of palm oil to EU markets. They believe that this directive is discriminatory and is in favour of other vegetable oil producers, in particular those in the European Union.

The EU clarified that the directive aims at a gradual reduction over time of the contribution of all conventional biofuels (not just those from palm oil) to the EU renewable energy targets. This proposal aims at reducing the carbon footprint of the transport sector.

4. EU laws, regulations, procedures and guidelines on marketing authorisation for medicinal products

India raised questions about EU processes for marketing authorizations for medicinal products, including for generic medicine, and the roles of various EU and member state authorities. The European Union said it welcomed further discussion on these matters in the EU-India Joint Working Group on Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology and Medical Devices.

5. EU regulations regarding labelling of food products in respect to palm oil

Colombia, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Thailand and Malaysia questioned a new labelling requirement in the European Union concerning products that contain palm oil. The labels in question indicate products which do not contain palm oil ("palm oil free"), which is seen by those members raising this issue as stigmatizing products that contain palm oil – in effect turning this into a so-called "negative labelling requirement". It was also argued that the requirement lacks scientific evidence that palm oil is harmful for health and the environment.

The European Union explained that this is a voluntary label, and is not regulated or required under EU legislation on food information to consumers. Moreover, "palm oil free" was not considered a nutritional claim in the EU. 

6. Thailand's new certification requirements on importing spirits into Thailand

Australia, the United States, Japan and the European Union raised concerns about new Thai certification requirements for spirits. They said industry faced uncertainty about testing criteria, and asked Thailand for guidance on compliance.

Thailand emphasized that the requirements are aimed at protecting consumer health and safety, and that it was preparing to notify this measure to the TBT Committee.

TBT Committee side event on international regulatory cooperation

On the margins of the TBT Committee meeting, a side event was organized on 19 March by Chile. The event, which featured interventions from WTO members, international organizations and the private sector, helped raise awareness of how international regulatory cooperation promotes effective implementation of the TBT Agreement. The opening remarks for the event were delivered by Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff, who highlighted the importance of the TBT Committee for promoting regulatory cooperation.

Advanced course on TBT Agreement concludes

The Advanced Course on the TBT Agreement took place in Geneva from 12 to 23 March 2018 at WTO headquarters. The course was attended by 23 participants from around the world who are involved at a technical or policy level with the implementation of the TBT Agreement.

In addition to covering the provisions of the TBT Agreement and the functions of the TBT Committee in a comprehensive manner, this interactive course served as a forum to share national experiences on implementation issues.

Emmah Monyanda, Technical Specialist for National Regulation for Compulsory Specification, South Africa, said: "I found the course to be very practical. It took us from the theory to application. It clarified how to apply the provisions of the TBT Agreement in our everyday work as public servants. The course also helped me understand the difference between standards and regulations and how to apply them in the context of trade. Although we have legitimate objectives as regulators, we also make sure that the regulations that we come up with do not become a problem for trade."

Nidhal Sebri Hameed, Director of WTO section, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Iraq, said: "The course was very beneficial; we gained a lot of knowledge. As an observer country, we are working on our technical files and preparing ourselves to draft the new technical regulations and to adapt new laws to the Iraqi standards and technical regulations. I will rely a lot on the knowledge and the information acquired to initiate the legal framework for the technical regulations upon my return."

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