TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE: COMMITTEE MEETING
8-10 November 2006 TBT Committee Meeting Fourth Triennial Review adopted
After two years of preparatory work, the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade adopted, on 9 November 2006, its Fourth Triennial Review Report. The Report provides an overview of the Committee’s work after eleven years of implementation and sets out an agenda for the future.
This document has been prepared by the Secretariat under its own responsibility. The document is for general information only and is not intended to affect the rights and obligations of Members.
In the Fourth Triennial Review Report (“the Report”), six elements were considered:
Implementation and Administration of the Agreement: since 1995, 108 Members have submitted a statement to the WTO on the measures taken to ensure the implementation and administration of the Agreement. This is an obligation for Members. The latest list of Members having submitted their statements can be found here G/TBT/GEN/1/Rev.4.
Good Regulatory Practice: members stress in the Report the benefits of simplifying and improving regulatory environments and emphasize the need for openness, transparency and accountability in the development and application of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures. The Review states that an appropriate regulatory framework can enhance predictability and innovation and thereby provide a more stable business climate. It also emphasizes the importance of regulatory cooperation between regulators from different countries as a means of achieving a better understanding of different regulatory systems.
Conformity Assessment Procedures: the Review Report builds on previous work, including two WTO workshops on this subject: one on Supplier’s Declaration of Conformity (SDoC) on 21 March 2005 G/TBT/M/35 and another on Different Approaches to Conformity Assessment G/TBT/M/38/Add.1, held in March the following year. It considers various approaches to conformity assessment (such as SDoC and accreditation to qualify conformity assessment bodies) and includes a section about facilitating the recognition of conformity assessment results, for instance through voluntary mutual recognition arrangements among individual laboratories, certification and inspection bodies — or even regional and multilateral recognition arrangements between accreditation bodies.
Transparency: over successive Reviews, decisions and procedural guidelines have been developed. Similar to earlier reviews, the Report contains a number of decisions and recommendations aimed at further refining the Committee’s transparency procedures.
Technical Assistance: the Report stresses the importance of building upon previous work on improving transparency to ensure the flow of information on technical assistance. In particular, it recalls that the Committee adopted, in November 2005, a Format for the Voluntary Notification of Specific Technical Assistance Needs and Responses G/TBT/16. The Report also notes that the use of “good practices” is essential to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of technical assistance. For instance, it is important that technical assistance is provided in a timely manner and that it is predictable and sustainable.
Special and Differential Treatment: the Report encourages members to inform the Committee of special and differential treatment provided to developing country Members, including information on how they have taken into account special and differential treatment provisions in the preparation of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures; and, to encourage developing country Members to undertake their own assessments of the utility and benefits of such special and differential treatment.
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Other issues discussed at the meeting
Delegations raised some 20 specific trade concerns in relation to the implementation and administration of the TBT Agreement. These will be summarized in document (G/TBT/M/40). The Committee also adopted its Fifth Annual Transitional Review mandated in paragraph 18 of the Protocol of Accession of the People’s Republic of China (to be circulated) as well as its 2006 Annual Report to the WTO’s Council for Trade in Goods (to be circulated).
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Some background information on TBT
The TBT Agreement covers a wide variety of measures that may be relevant to
achieving various regulatory policy objectives, such as protecting human
health and safety, or protecting the environment.
Essentially, the Agreement balances governments’ sovereign right to regulate against a set of obligations that discipline their implementation of this right. For instance, when governments regulate to achieve a given policy objectives (e.g. the prevention of deceptive practices) such regulations should not, when implemented, unnecessarily restrict trade, or be discriminatory.
The Agreement also encourages the use of international standards, guidelines or recommendations where they exist, and it has detailed provisions aimed at increasing transparency.
Why a Triennial Review? Article 15.4 of the TBT Agreement instructs members to review, every three years, the implementation and operation of the Agreement.
What is Good regulatory practice? It is, essentially, about the practical implementation, at the domestic level, of all provisions contained in the TBT Agreement.
What is transparency in the TBT context? Transparency aims at facilitating access to information on domestic regulatory processes and Members are, inter alia, obliged to notify new or changed measures when these are not based on a relevant international standard, and, when they may have a significant effect on trade (such notifications can be found here). Members also have the obligation to establish an enquiry point to respond to reasonable enquiries and provide relevant documentation. A list of TBT enquiry points can be found here. The TBT Committee holds regular meetings of persons responsible for information exchange (for instance enquiry points and notifications) in Geneva. The latest such meeting was held in November 2004 Annex 2 of G/TBT/M/34 and the next will be held in 2007.
What is conformity assessment? It refers to the part of the TBT Agreement which deals, inter alia, with procedures used to determine that relevant requirements in technical regulations or standards are fulfilled.
Minutes of the meeting
(issued as a restricted document and subsequently derestricted following the procedures for the circulation and derestriction of WTO documents).