TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE
Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement
The Chair Mr. Laurence Sandral (Australia) commended members for their active engagement, which has resulted in 31 proposals submitted by Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, the Philippines, Singapore, Chinese Taipei and the United States.
The review process helps the Committee set out its workplan for 2021 to 2024. It starts with members submitting ideas on new work for the Committee. The second phase is to develop a set of recommendations for the new areas of work. Members are expected to finalise this review by the last Committee meeting of the year in November 2021.
The proposals submitted by WTO members address various issues, with transparency featuring strongly across many members' proposals. Other areas include conformity assessment, accreditation policies, the impact of standards on micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), e-commerce and online shopping, cybersecurity and digital products (including artificial intelligence), the use of international standards for food regulation, lessons learned from COVID-19, and climate change.
Members discussed several new proposals in depth at informal meetings on 11 May and 1 June that preceded the TBT Committee meeting. More information on the Triennial Review can be found here.
COVID-19 related TBT notifications
The WTO Secretariat reported that 153 TBT-related notifications have been submitted to the WTO since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 42 of these notifications were submitted this year. The main objectives of these notifications were to streamline certification procedures to facilitate access to essential medical products; to ensure that medical goods are safe; to make food readily available by relaxing technical regulations; to address COVID-19 risks from international trading of live animals and of animal products; and to provide implementation delays for other regulations due to the constraints imposed by COVID-19.
Most of the TBT measures notified were temporary and trade facilitating. They were mostly related to conformity assessment procedures, such as the use of remote assessment technologies or electronic certification. More information on COVID-19 and trade can be found here.
Specific trade concerns
Members discussed 86 specific trade concerns, of which 19 were discussed for the first time. The full list of trade concerns discussed can be found here.
Several of the new concerns address issues related to the environment, with a focus on carbon footprint, the use of recycled input materials, the classification of hazardous chemicals, and plant protection. The products covered include batteries, biofuel, chemicals and pesticides.
On batteries, members discussed how requirements to include recycled materials in battery manufacturing would affect trade, whether businesses should disclose data related to carbon emissions during production, and how the carbon footprint would be calculated.
Members also discussed how biofuel blends and emission limits would affect vehicle exports. Questions were posed on the use of science in classifying hazardous chemicals and concerns were raised that certification procedures to regulate harmful substances in leather products may be burdensome. Members also explained that restrictions on the use of a pesticide may affect the sustainability of agricultural production, exports and farmer income.
Update on ePing
The Secretariat reported that there are now around 14,000 subscribed users to the TBT/SPS notification alert system ePing. In addition, the Secretariat has been carrying out a range of training activities to respond to requests for capacity building, some in collaboration with ePing partners International Trade Centre and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Recent virtual training programmes have targeted stakeholders in the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bhutan, St Lucia, South Africa, Vanuatu and Viet Nam.
Viet Nam shared information on the launch of ePing in Vietnamese in April 2021, with the participation of government agencies, associations, MSMEs, universities and related organizations. The initiative aims to facilitate MSMEs' access to information on product requirements in their export markets. More information can be found here.
The WTO Secretariat piloted its first virtual TBT regional roundtable on 27 May 2021. This event, for English-speaking Africa, attracted 70 participants from 19 countries. Topics covered included transparency, the triennial review, ongoing work on conformity assessment, COVID-19 and health.