WTO News Item, 29 and 31 October 2013
Note - this item has been edited to provide only the food related items. The full News Item can be seen at: http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news13_e/tbt_29oct13_e.htm
WTO members, meeting as the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee on 29–31 October 2013, examined in some detail the latest thinking on a set of issues that many of them see as a major obstacle to trade — how to make it easier for products to be certified as meeting required standards, and how special efforts can be made for developing countries.
The committee, which also monitors the implementation of the TBT Agreement by discussing specific trade concerns (see below), this time heard a near-record 51 concerns. Once more, the environment and health featured heavily in the discussions, the topics ranging from sustainability criteria for biofuels to tobacco products, food and alcohol labelling, genetically modified organisms, medical devices and telecommunications.
Much of the discussion on specific trade concerns is based on information that members share with each other on their technical requirements for goods sold on their markets, including imports, as set out in regulations and standards — they do this by notifying the WTO. In order to improve the way members share information, the Secretariat announced the launch of an online system — the TBT Notification Submission System — designed to speed up the process.
Certification, accreditation and developing countries
The day-long informal meeting was the latest in a series of sessions concentrating on specific issues — “thematic sessions” — launched a year ago. These sessions help the committee focus on work that lays the proper foundation for preventing trade concerns from arising between members in the first place.
Streamlining the processes for ensuring that products meet required standards can substantially reduce costs and time to market for such products, the committee heard. One delegation said it has found that accreditation can halve the time needed for a product to reach the market, and slash associated costs by 80%.
The key is to have products certified before they leave the exporting country, according to agreed standards and by accredited bodies, and even more so if the certification is recognized internationally. This is summed up in the slogans of two related organizations that provide international arrangements in this area. The International Accreditation Forum (IAF)’s is: “Certified Once Accepted Everywhere”. The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) has a similar slogan. Both presented their work to the meeting.
But there are a number of obstacles to achieving this for the full range of traded products and in all countries, with developing countries particularly handicapped. They face difficulties in meeting the standards needed for their goods and services to be certified, and for their laboratories and inspection services to be accredited as having sufficient technical competence and thus providing confidence for trade.
Members provided several insights into the complex set of processes involved when deciding what type of “conformity assessment” procedure to use in different situations. Some WTO members said the type of assessment that their authorities apply depends on the risk involved.
If failing to comply bears a low risk with little damage, then producers are often allowed to declare for themselves that their products meet the standards; but where there is a risk of death or serious injury, importing countries require third-party certification, presenters said.
Help for developing countries
Technical assistance is important to help developing countries catch up in this area. A number of members described their experience in giving and receiving the assistance in a separate session which dealt both with assistance to developing countries — training and other means of helping developing countries deal with technical barriers to trade — and special treatment in rules and regulations for these countries.
This session also heard a proposal on setting up new guidelines for countries to give special treatment, for example allowing developing countries additional time to comment on importing countries’ proposed new regulations or to comply with new requirements. The proposal was supported by some developing countries, but some other members said the issue requires further discussion between members to examine the issues involved.
Specific trade concerns
Members discussed 51 specific trade concerns, including 15 new issues. They covered topics such as alcoholic drinks, halal food, regulations for fuel used for transport, steel cutlery products, confectionary, chemical substances including the EU’s Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), labelling and certification of food products, pneumatic tyres, solar panels, telecommunications, cosmetics, medical instruments, and toy safety.
Russia —Ukrainian confectionary product imports (new).
Ukraine considers Russia’s ban on certain Ukrainian confectionaries to have been introduced too suddenly, to lack transparency and without evidence of the risk to consumers, and to unfairly discriminate against Ukrainian products. The Ukrainian delegation called for an official, detailed report from inspection experts, and asked Russia to lift the ban and adopt less trade restrictive measures.
Russia responded by noting that only one producer was affected, and that a WTO notification of the measure was not needed because no new requirements had been introduced. It explained that the suspension of imports was caused by some discrepancies between Ukraine and Russia in specifying the product category. The decision can be reviewed once the product fully complies with requirements, Russia added.
Turkey — Proposed warning messages on alcoholic drink containers, and restrictions on the use of trademarks for non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks (new).
Turkey’s proposed measure seeks to protect the health of minors, drivers, and pregnant women while increasing consumer information. It requires exporters supplying alcoholic drinks to the Turkish market to place the message “Alcohol is not your friend” on their products, and to indicate the amount of residual alcohol in the inner package of non-alcoholic beverages, or to place the message “alcohol was fully removed”. Non-alcoholic drinks would not be allowed to use the brands of alcoholic drinks, and vice versa.
Canada, United States, Mexico and the European Union argued that these requirements will be costly and complex for exporters, and said it should be made clear to consumers that only excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous. They asked Turkey to justify the measure more clearly with scientific evidence. They asked if Turkey has considered measures that do not restrict trade so much, such as information campaigns to achieve its goals. A number of members were also concerned that separating alcoholic and non-alcoholic brands affect intellectual property rights.
Turkey assured the members that domestic and foreign products would be treated equally, that a full 10 month transition period would be provided to allow industry to adapt to the new legislation, and that it would respond to all remaining concerns.