TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE
Members also made progress on work to develop guidelines to help regulators determine which conformity assessment procedures to apply in situations where risks associated with products are different.
Thematic Sessions: accreditation and digital solutions
The Committee held an in-depth exchange of experiences on conformity assessment procedures at a meeting on 8 March. A thematic session on accreditation featured case studies on how accreditation systems can reduce technical barriers to trade and facilitate trade through cooperation between accreditation systems in WTO members. Members underlined the importance of the International Accreditation Forum and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation frameworks while recognizing challenges with respect to accommodating diverse national or regional approaches. The session highlighted in particular how cooperation between accreditation systems has been crucial for accelerating trade in medical goods and personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accreditation bodies worldwide turned to remote assessment to ensure continuity of their work while ensuring rigor and confidence in their assessments. More information can be found here.
A thematic session on digital solutions for conformity assessment procedures heard that such procedures are still paper-intensive and burdened by red tape, despite technological advances. The session highlighted how digitization can be an enabler to upgrade the infrastructure needed by national conformity assessment bodies (CABs) to provide their services more efficiently. The session also outlined how digital technologies and solutions can help improve the objectivity and transparency of conformity assessment procedures and provide better integrity in supply chains, and highlighted some of the increasingly complex challenges that arise with new technologies such as medical devices and 3D printing. The session made clear that many developing countries lack adequate digital infrastructure and lag in the uptake of these technologies, requiring solutions to overcome this divide. More information can be found here.
The sessions took place on International Women's Day. The chair of the TBT Committee, Mrs. Elisa María Olmeda de Alejandro (Mexico), said: “I would like to acknowledge all the women in this Committee, and the work they carry out daily to achieve equality and to break away from prejudice. Let us carry on inspiring future generations of women and show them the opportunities for improving this world, whatever its focus, as this year's #breakthebias theme begs us to do.” See more here.
In response to various recommendations in the area of transparency, the committee agreed at its 9-11 March meeting to advance work in this area through a new working group on transparency open to all WTO members. The deliberations and suggestions from the working group will be reported to the committee for consideration or follow up action as necessary. The working group will begin by addressing two new issues — the revision of notification formats; and use of harmonised system codes to identify products in measures that are notified to the TBT committee.
The WTO Secretariat gave a preview of a new integrated ePing SPS & TBT platform which will provide a single-entry point to track and follow up on information regarding product requirements. A series of training and outreach sessions will be offered as the new platform goes live by the end of March.
Guidelines for conformity assessment
The committee registered progress on work to develop guidelines to help regulators determine which conformity assessment procedures to apply in situations where risks associated with products are different. The work, mandated in the Ninth Triennial Review of the TBT Agreement (adopted in November 2021), is based on proposals submitted by members. Ahead of the meeting, new submissions were received from Australia, Colombia, Malaysia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Specific Trade Concerns: focus on digital issues
Members discussed 80 specific trade concerns at the committee meeting, of which 20 were discussed for the first time. The full list of trade concerns raised can be found here.
Confirming a growing trend, a significant share of the new concerns involved digital issues. Topics discussed included risks posed by artificial intelligence systems, the protection of data collected by vehicle sensors in accidents, interoperability of smartphones for making emergency calls more effective, affixing QR codes in energy efficiency labels, and network security.
Many issues also related to conformity assessment, touching on a wide variety of products such as motor vehicles, air conditioners, spices and toys. Concerns raised by members in this area included challenges faced for on-site inspections and visits of testing facilities due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, as well as the need to expand the coverage of accredited laboratories for testing and certification of regulated products outside the importing country.
A number of new concerns addressed issues related to the environment, with a focus on solar photovoltaic (PV) products, energy efficiency labels, and energy conservation tests, and fuel economy standards. On solar PV products, members discussed the need to review life cycle assessment reports in accordance with relevant international standards and ensure the same treatment of imported and domestic solar PV products.
Many members took the floor to express their strong opposition to the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian delegate responded by saying that the WTO was not the proper venue for a discussion of this nature.
COVID-19 related notifications
The Secretariat reported that since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, WTO members have submitted a total of 192 COVID-related TBT notifications. These notifications comprise more than 40% of all COVID related WTO notifications to date. Eight members submitted 11 new COVID-19 related TBT notifications since the last committee meeting in November 2021. These notifications cover a range of products, including COVID-19 antigen tests, vaccines and swabs, amongst others. The notified measures broadly relate to emergency authorization and procedures to streamline access for these medical goods, new safety and quality requirements, as well as other regulatory flexibilities adopted during the pandemic.
The Committee adopted the twenty-seventh Annual Review of the Implementation and Operation of the TBT Agreement. The review provides a factual presentation of developments in the committee in 2021 relating to the implementation and operation of the Agreement. The Annual Review is available in G/TBT/47.
Highlights from the review:
- 3,966 notifications of new or changed TBT measures (a record) were submitted to the committee. 83 members submitted at least one notification during the year.
- Strong participation from developing and least-developed members (LDCs) is driving overall growth in notifications, accounting for the vast majority of new notifications (85%) last year.
- In 2021, LDCs members submitted 63% more notifications compared to 2020, a 5% increase over the 2019-2020 period.
- African members were amongst the most active in submitting TBT notifications, submitting over a third of all new notifications in 2021.Five East African Community countries were among the top ten notifying members: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
- Members reviewed a total of 257 specific trade concerns, including 64 new concerns. The number of new concerns raised is the highest in any one year since 1995.
- As a group, developing country members in 2021 raised the largest number of new STCs in any year since 1995.
TBT Symposium in 2022:
The Secretariat announced it will organize a “TBT Symposium on Alleviating Regulatory Bottlenecks in Global Supply Chains” on 14 October 2022.