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What is TBT?

Technical barriers to trade

Technical regulations and product standards may vary from country to country. Having many different regulations and standards makes life difficult for producers and exporters. If regulations are set ar-bitrarily, they could be used as an excuse for protectionism.

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade tries to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles, while also providing members with the right to implement measures to achieve legitimate policy objectives, such as the protection of human health and safety, or the environment.

However, the agreement also recognizes countries’ rights to adopt the standards they consider appropri-ate — for example, for human, animal or plant life or health, for the protection of the environment or to meet other consumer interests. Moreover, members are not prevented from taking measures necessary to ensure their standards are met. But that is counterbalanced with disciplines. Technical regulations have to be based on scientific evidence, shall be formulated and applied in such a way as not to create arbitrary or unnecessary obstacles to international trade. The technical regulations shall be applied on the basis of the most-favored-nation and shall not be more burdensome for imported products than for products of national production.

The agreement says the procedures used to decide whether a product conforms with relevant standards have to be fair and equitable. The agreement discourages any methods that would give domestically pro-duced goods an unfair advantage and also encourages countries to recognize each other’s procedures for assessing whether a product conforms. Without recognition, products might have to be tested twice, first by the exporting country and then by the importing country.

The Technical Barriers to Trade Committee is the major clearing house for members to share the infor-mation and the major forum to discuss concerns about the regulations and their implementation.

Manufacturers and exporters need to know what the latest standards are in their prospective markets. To help ensure that this information is made available conveniently, all WTO member governments are re-quired to establish national enquiry points.

Annex 3 of the TBT Agreement is the Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards. In accepting the TBT Agreement, WTO Members agree to ensure that their central government standardizing bodies accept and comply with this Code of Good Practice. Over 200 standards-setting bodies apply the Сode.

On behalf of the WTO, the ISO/IEC Information Centre records the acceptance of this Code by the na-tional standards institutes.

Liaison between WTO and standards-setting organizations

The TBT Agreement recognizes the important contribution that international standards and conformity assessment systems can make to improving efficiency of production and facilitating international trade. Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, therefore, the Code of Good Practice says that standardizing bodies should use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for standards they develop. It also aims at the harmonization of standards on as wide a basis as possible, encouraging all standardizing bodies to play as full a part as resources allow in the preparation of international standards by the relevant international body, including the IEC and ISO.

ISO and IEC – together with ITU – has built a strategic partnership with WTO. The political agreements reached within the framework of WTO require underpinning by technical agreements. IEC, ISO, and ITU, as the three principal organizations in international standardization, have the complementary scopes, the framework, the expertise and the experience to provide this technical support for the growth of the global market.

On a regular basis the IEC and ISO report on their activities at the WTO TBT Committee meetings.