TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE
The first thematic discussion explored the four main pillars of “quality infrastructure” (QI): accreditation, metrology, standards and conformity assessment procedures. These are the institutions that test, measure and demonstrate the safety and quality of products, vital for achieving market access and establishing trust in traded goods. Members discussed the importance of these pillars functioning as a cohesive National Quality Infrastructure ecosystem, their importance for competitiveness, the need for technical assistance on QI, as well as regional efforts to cooperate on QI. More information on the session programme, presentations and webcast is available here.
The thematic discussion on standards focused on incorporating standards in regulations, including policy considerations, existing guidelines and best practices. Members highlighted significant benefits to using standards as a regulatory tool, the importance of monitoring standards referenced in regulations, and factors that are relevant when referencing standards. More information on the session programme, presentations and webcast is available here.
Improved notification procedures adopted
The committee agreed on a new procedure to improve the transparency of WTO members' measures and to facilitate access to adopted measures. These are contained in a revised addendum format for notifications (G/TBT/35/Rev.1). This addendum will facilitate access to information such as the date of entry into force of a previously notified regulation and its availability through national websites. This follows on from the committee's recent recommendation in the Eighth Triennial Review to encourage members to notify the adopted final texts of regulations.
The WTO Secretariat presented some of the recent improvements to ePing, a publicly available alert system for tracking sanitary and phytosanitary and TBT notifications issued by WTO members. There are currently over 8,400 registered ePing users from the public and private sectors. The recent improvements include a more user-friendly home page and an enhanced platform for sharing additional information on notifications, such as translations, full texts and comments.
Technical assistance: TBT Advanced Short Course
An Advanced Short Course on the TBT Agreement was organized by the WTO Secretariat in parallel to the committee meeting from 12 to 15 November 2019. Twenty-five participants from developing and least-developed members, who are involved at a technical or policy level with the implementation of the TBT Agreement, attended the course. More information is available here.
Specific trade concerns
Over the two-day TBT committee meeting, WTO members discussed 62 specific trade concerns, including 12 new ones. A full list of the trade concerns is available here.
A summary of the new specific trade concerns is provided below:
1. European Union — ecological design requirements for external power supply
China said the revised EU measure that required placing “output power” information on products' nameplates was unjustified. This was not in line with International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards, which only require nameplates to contain information on “output voltage” and “output current”. China added that the transition period provided for manufacturers to follow this requirement is insufficient and requested the EU to extend it for a year.
The EU said that the new regulation will apply from 1 April 2020 and will include updated energy efficiency requirements in line with the most ambitious international standards. The new regulation will also improve the information offered by manufacturers to consumers. The EU said that the regulation will not affect products already on the market and that the transitional period provided was set to meet the EU’s commitment to increase its energy efficiency by 32.5% by 2030.
2. Brazil — requirements for export and import certification of beverages
Brazil said it has decided not to pursue a newly introduced requirement concerning the addition of water in the production of wine. The United States, South Africa and New Zealand had raised questions regarding the new regulation.
Brazil said that the discontinuation of this regulation process will soon be notified to the committee.
3. India — air conditioner
Korea and the United States raised concerns with a new measure introduced by India which requires finished products of air conditioners and their related parts to be tested by laboratories designated by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Korea maintained that manufacturers are having issues with this regulation due to the absence of designated testing laboratories.
Korea and the US requested that India grant a six-month grace period after test laboratories are designated and are available to use. Korea also urged India to approve alternative methods such as accepting internationally recognized test reports. The US also requested that the BIS recognize air conditioner equipment verified by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) Certification Program to expedite its availability to Indian consumers.
India said that the recognition of laboratories was a continuous and ongoing process. The BIS has already recognised two outside laboratories, including one for testing temperature. India said that the recognition of foreign laboratories is done on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis.
4. Ecuador — energy efficiency requirements for clothes dryers for domestic use
Korea raised concerns about Ecuador's requirements for the minimum allowable energy efficiency of clothes dryers. These requirements were neither in line with international standards (IEC 61121), nor with the regulations applied by other Latin American countries.
Ecuador took note of Korea's concerns, which will be assessed and responded to in due course.
5. Ghana — motor vehicles
The United States and Canada commended Ghana for taking steps to improve road safety by adopting motor vehicle safety and emissions standards, and for notifying the measures to the WTO. However, the US and Canada are concerned that the measures mean that Ghana would discontinue accepting vehicles built to comply with US and Canadian regulations. In their view, basing the standards exclusively on the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) standards would cause undue barriers to trade, and they encouraged Ghana to accept vehicles complying with other international standards.
6. United States — modernization of the labelling and advertising regulations for wine, distilled spirits and malt beverages
The European Union expressed its concerns with a proposed measure by the United States related to the labelling of wine and spirits. In relation to wine labelling, the EU flagged concerns regarding character size limits on labels and restrictions on the indication of the vintage and grape variety. The EU was also concerned about certain appellations of origin for fruit, rice and agricultural wines and a minimum alcohol content of 15%.
Regarding spirits, the EU raised concerns related to the labelling of alcoholic content, and multiple distillation claims that are inconsistent with long-standing labelling conventions. It was also concerned about statements of age, storage and percentage and standards of identity (e.g. a minimum alcohol content of 40% requirement for all distilled spirits).
The US said the comment period for its rulemaking on this measure closed on 26 June 2019. There are several possible paths forward regarding the modernization of the alcoholic beverage labelling regulations. The US said it was analysing hundreds of comments involving a great variety of challenging issues of widespread interest and was giving all comments and issues the analysis required.
7. Qatar — shelf life for cheese
The United States and the European Union expressed concerns with the measure published by the Qatari Ministry of Public Health, which restricts the reconstitution of milk and establishes cheese shelf life parameters. The measure requires that 80% of a cheese product's shelf life remain at the time of importation. The US and the EU said this shelf-life requirement is so short that in practice it prohibits dairy products originating from countries not geographically close to Qatar from being viable purchase options for importers.
The regulation restricts the marketing of fluid milks made from reconstituted powdered milks, requires country of origin labelling, and requires certain white cheeses to be presented in low-fat form only and the obligatory addition of vitamins to milk. The US and the EU urged Qatar to notify the measure to the TBT committee and suspend its implementation.
Qatar said that the purpose of this regulation is to ensure product quality and protect consumers. Qatar added that the relevant measures apply equally to domestic and imported goods, and were adopted with WTO obligations in mind. Qatar said that it will convey comments to the relevant authorities.
8. Turkey — regulation on cosmetics
The United States raised concerns regarding new product filing, labelling and testing requirements introduced by Turkey between 2016 and 2018. The US is concerned that the proposed amendment would require companies to disclose highly confidential business information related to product formulation and test data that is not typically required during a product filing.
The US said that while it understands that Turkey’s objective is to provide Turkish consumers with information on products in the marketplace, information being disclosed could enable counterfeits and competitors to mine information. The United States asked Turkey to suspend the implementation of this new measure until the draft amendment is notified to the TBT committee, and that a 60-day comment period be provided.
Turkey said that cosmetics regulation is one of the areas where harmonization with the EU legislation is continuing. After receiving and evaluating the comments of the European Commission on the draft regulation, Turkey will notify the measure to the TBT committee with a 60-day comment period.
9. Brazil — conformity assessment requirements for medical devices
The United States expressed its concern with a proposed measure by Brazil regarding the validity periods for testing and certification of medical devices and the requirements for the application of the Compliance Identification Seal for medical devices sold on the Brazilian market.
The US said that it appreciates the positive changes that Brazil has introduced in the finalization of Ordinance 259/2019 (notified to the WTO on 13 June 2019), which would eliminate the validity periods for testing and certification of medical devices. The US understood that Brazil will also allow the application of Compliance Identification Seal at the port of export or after arrival in Brazil without prior facility inspection.
Brazil informed the committee that all validity periods originally introduced will be withdrawn. The proposed text already allows for the Seal to be affixed in Brazil and that the extra requirements for inspection of the facilities in which the Seal is affixed will also be withdrawn. Manufacturers and importers will be responsible for ensuring their compliance with the affixation requirements.
10. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — electrical clothes dryers
Korea raised concerns with Saudi Arabia's criteria for power consumption tolerance of electrical clothes dryers and flagged that it is very narrow and different from international standards (IEC 60335-1). Korea asked Saudi Arabia to harmonize its regulation with international standards to avoid any unnecessary trade restrictions.
Saudi Arabia said that it will discuss the matter bilaterally with Korea.
11. Republic of Korea — Ballast Water Management Act
The European Union raised concerns with Korea’s requirements on certification of ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) for vessels registered under the Korean flag, in particular regarding the lack of recognition of tests performed on BWTS outside Korea. The certification requirements introduced by Korea create additional costs and administrative delays, with negative impact on the competitiveness of EU companies. The EU asked Korea to fully recognise all tests previously performed according to International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements and the G8 guidelines. The EU also urged Korea to notify the measure to the TBT committee.
Korea said that domestic and foreign manufactured goods (including from the EU) are subject to the same requirements with respect to the certification of BWTS for vessels registered under the Korean flag. Korea said that the Act foresees the possibility of recognizing foreign BWTS certification systems as equal to the Korean system.
12. Pakistan — labelling, shelf-life and halal certification
The United States and the European Union raised concerns with a new regulation introduced by Pakistan, which requires mandatory labelling, halal certification and shelf-life for all consumer food and beverage products. While the EU and the US recognize the importance of ensuring that products are halal for Pakistani consumers, they urged Pakistan to develop halal policies that meet the needs of consumers without being overly burdensome or trade prohibitive.
The US encouraged Pakistan to not only recognize halal certifiers accredited by the International Halal Accreditation Forum and the Standards and Metrology Institute for the Islamic Countries but also to recognize halal certificates from other US-based halal certifiers recognized by other Islamic countries. The EU was concerned that the use of stickers, overprinting, stamp or scratched labelling is prohibited. The EU and the US stressed the importance of notifying any future revisions to the WTO at the draft stage, providing WTO members with an opportunity to comment.
Pakistan said that the shelf life and other labelling requirements are not new and existed previously at the sub-federal and provincial levels. Pakistan said that the new measure is meant to incorporate and streamline the existing measures with national laws. The measures are applicable on a non-discriminatory basis and Pakistan remains open to bilateral discussions with concerned members.
The chair of the committee, Mr Sung-hwa Jang (Republic of Korea), announced that the next regular meeting will be held on 26-27 February 2020. It will be preceded by an informal meeting on 25 February.