WTO News Item, 17 and 20 June 2013
WTO members moved forward on 17–20 June 2013 in preparing guidance on “good regulatory practices” for governments when setting product requirements, such as for labelling and certification, so that measures avoid disrupting trade unnecessarily.
Meeting as the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee, Members are trying to find pragmatic ways to implement the TBT Agreement — ways that will make its implementation more effective. They agreed to accelerate the task after the WTO’s summer break in August (more below).
Once again, health featured heavily in the discussion of specific trade concerns, the committee’s core activity in monitoring how members are implementing the agreement. Other topics ranged from tobacco products, food labelling, genetically modified organisms, greenhouse gases and telecommunications equipment.
The committee also examined ways of improving an activity that is vital for its work — the way members share information with each other on technical standards and regulations (through “notifications”), and provide each other an opportunity to comment on new or proposed measures. The EU has proposed establishing common criteria for the use of notification formats.
In a related matter, some delegations are testing a new on-line TBT notification submission system, which will speed up the notification process.
The TBT Committee deals with technical regulations and standards, and their implications for trade. The WTO’s World Trade Report 2012 shows how regulatory measures for trade in goods and services raise new and pressing challenges for international cooperation in the 21st century.
Good regulatory practices
The present focus in the work on good regulatory practices is on developing a list of voluntary principles and mechanisms that represent best practices in developing and applying regulations.
Using these to improve the way countries implement the TBT Agreement would avoid unnecessary obstacles to international trade by making regulations and conformity assessment procedures — and the processes through which they are set — more transparent, open and predictable. This, in turn would benefit companies and countries with limited resources trying to meet the requirements of their export markets.
The principles include openness and accountability, good coordination at home between government agencies and stakeholders, analysis and evaluation of regulatory options based on evidence, and international cooperation among governments.
The mechanisms include various means of applying the principles as well as ways of minimizing the burden of implementing the regulation for all concerned, of implementing and enforcing the regulations, and of taking into account the needs of developing countries.
Members are working on a draft that includes a series of suggested steps that governments could follow through the life of a TBT measure, from the proposal stage to review, amendment or repeal. The steps include examples of mechanisms countries could apply at each stage and are accompanied by references to provisions in the TBT Agreement.
“While the [latest revision of the draft] is an improvement, further work is needed,” chairperson Jingo Kikukawa of Japan reported to the committee after consulting members. He added: “this elaboration of best practices, I believe, should help us all — but in particular developing country members — when implementing the agreement. I therefore cannot stress enough the importance of members’ engagement in this process.”
Specific trade concerns
Members discussed 39 specific trade concerns, including 14 new issues. The issues discussed revolved around topics such as tobacco products (Ireland, EU), alcoholic beverages (Russia, EU), GMOs (Peru), fluorinated greenhouse gases (EU), chemical substances (Korea, US, EU) including EU’s Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), medicinal and medical devices (China, EU, Brazil, ), labeling and certification of food products (Indonesia, EU, Peru, Viet Nam, Chile), pneumatic tyres (India), solar panels (Korea), telecommunications (India), cosmetics (China), medical instruments (China), toy safety (Indonesia).
Peru — Act to Promote Healthy Eating among Children and Adolescents (new)
The act will require mandatory warning statements and established thresholds for certain nutrients. According to several Members, the measure is more trade-restrictive than necessary and is not based on relevant guides developed by the Codex Guidelines on Nutritional Labelling.
Mexico, the United States, Argentina, the EU, Switzerland and Guatemala urged Peru to adopt less trade-restrictive approaches such as information campaigns and daily intakes expressed in percentages, which correspond to international standards such as the Codex. Members also raised concerns regarding the exact scope and applicability of the measure as well as its implementation period. Moreover, members invited Peru to notify the measure to the TBT Committee, to consider longer timeframe for transparency purposes, as well as longer period of entry into force to allow debates and comments.
Peru explained that the measure had been implemented on 10 May 2013 and announced that, in accordance with WTO obligations, they would re-evaluate the measure based on comments received.
Chile’s proposed amendment to food health regulations
The amendment aims at adding specific warnings such as “high in calories”, or “high salt” on food products. The objective is to inform the public of the content of the food it consumes in order to encourage it to avoid unnecessary, excessive intake, which can lead to obesity and related non‑communicable diseases. Some Members emphasized that no thresholds had been established by the Codex for the nutrients targeted by the Chilean legislation and that the Chilean warnings could risk stigmatizing some foods whose moderate consumption formed part of a healthy diet.
Mexico, Guatemala, the European Union, United States, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Switzerland and Costa Rica reiterated their concerns regarding the proposed amendment. Some issues were raised on the conformity with the transparency principle, the TBT Agreement and the national treatment principle; and the compliance with international standards such as the Codex Guidelines on Nutritional Labelling.
Members called on Chile to consider more trade-friendly alternatives such as promotional campaigns aimed at raising awareness. Chile was also requested to postpone the implementation deadline of the amendment to allow for adjustments, and to notify the measure to the TBT Committee.
Chile argued that this legislative change had been generated by an obesity epidemic. Furthermore, they explained that during the preparation of the final draft, experts from various countries, including the EU and US, had provided suggestions and Chile would work on taking these into account — for instance, Chile noted that the earlier proposal of using an octagonal shape (similar to a STOP sign) for the warning signs had now been abandoned and that they are working on a new logo.
For a full listing of the trade concerns, see the full news item at: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news13_e/tbt_17jun13_e.htm