Geneva, 21 July 2022
At a meeting of the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) on 12-15 July, transparency was the focus of WTO members’ activities. These included the official launch of the ePing platform, a dedicated thematic session on transparency, updates on the Transparency Working Group, and a call for candidates for the African Transparency Champions Programme.
The Committee also held a thematic session on how micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) can better participate in international trade. Other activities during the week included work on developing guidelines to help governments improve product certification and on how regulations can help pandemic preparedness. A total of 80 specific TBT-related trade concerns were discussed by members, 13 of which addressed new concerns, most of them related to environmental and digital issues.
On 13 June, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the WTO and the International Trade Centre (ITC) officially launched the new ePing SPS&TBT Platform. The website is complemented by a mobile application to facilitate easy access to notifications on product requirements and key trade updates. More information on the launch can be found here.
Thematic session: Transparency
Following up on the TBT Committee’s Triennial Review recommendations , members underscored the importance of domestic coordination in complying with and benefitting from the TBT transparency framework and identified some key ingredients for making it effective.
The session highlighted the role ePing can play in tracking changes in product requirements in export markets and in speeding up domestic consultation processes. Members also discussed how to overcome challenges in providing specific information on the product coverage of notified measures.
It was noted that while the Harmonised System codes (HS codes) are an important tool for assessing the trade impact of a notified measure, they are not enough for defining product coverage. The HS codes allow countries to classify traded goods on a common basis, and were developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO). Several members indicated that the International Classification for Standards Codes was more commonly used. Members also looked at some of the tools and resources used to identify relevant HS codes, such as ePing, national customs networks, and other sources and documents from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the WCO.
Thematic session: Regulatory cooperation between WTO members on MSMEs
The session focused on how MSMEs can be assisted in accessing information on product requirements and meeting these requirements. Success stories were shared by small businesses from Indonesia and Costa Rica on cost savings they have achieved.
However, some members flagged that procedural requirements can affect small businesses disproportionally and impede their exports. Implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement can complement efforts to reduce costs associated with standards and regulations. Reference was made to relevant work undertaken in the Informal Working Group on Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and its newly launched Trade4MSMEs platform.
Transparency Working Group
The Transparency Working Group is open to all WTO members. It reports suggestions and the outcomes of discussions to the TBT Committee. At its first meeting in April, members identified product coverage and notification formats as priority areas for further discussions. At the July meeting, members exchanged comments on work done to date and what will be taken up at the next meeting of the working group scheduled for October.
Members and observers from Africa were invited to propose candidates for the Transparency Champions Programme, which will kick off with an in-person workshop in Geneva in October.
The Champions Programme is a capacity building initiative that targets officials working on transparency matters, typically as enquiry points designated to deal with enquiries from other WTO members and the public on technical barriers to trade or sanitary and phytosanitary measures. The first pilot will be conducted in English for African countries and will support integration efforts under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
Guidelines for certification
Members 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.
COVID-19 and pandemic preparedness
Members examined the contribution of the TBT Committee to the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the preparedness for future pandemics in light of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) outcomes in this area.
The new Chair of the TBT Committee, Mr Anwar Hussain Shaik (India), said that MC12 placed additional importance on this element of TBT Committee work. He stressed that the Committee has been asked to report annually to the General Council on its progress until the end of 2024.
COVID-19 related work of the TBT Committee
The WTO Secretariat provided an overview of the TBT Committee’s work on COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including members’ work on notifications, discussion of specific trade concerns, as well as exchange of experiences. The Secretariat noted that around two-thirds of the notifications related to COVID-19 were submitted under the urgent notification provisions of technical regulations and conformity assessment, while the rest were submitted as regular notifications.
In terms of the product coverage of the notified measures, personal protective equipment, pharmaceutical products, medical devices and other medical supplies were highlighted. The Secretariat noted that the types of measures notified by members were emergency and temporary procedures, new standards or technical regulations for medical goods, or postponement of the entry into force of other regulations.
Specific trade concerns: Environmental and digital issues
Members discussed 80 specific trade concerns at the Committee meeting, of which 13 were discussed for the first time. The full list of trade concerns raised can be found here.
Members shared their progress on finding positive solutions to specific trade concerns through bilateral cooperation on issues such as ceramics and wine labelling requirements.
Digital issues featured prominently at the meeting. The topics discussed included new technical regulations on 5G, a requirement to affix QR codes in energy efficiency labels, and requirements for the testing and certification of telecommunication systems.
Several of the new concerns addressed issues related to the environment, with a focus on packaging requirements such as a ban on using mineral oils in packaging materials, energy conservation standards and the prohibition of certain toxic substances.
On energy conservation standards, members questioned the consistency of the energy efficiency test methods with international standards. Members also discussed whether certain prohibited substances pose a risk of adverse effects on the environment, stressing the importance of conducting a thorough risk assessment for ensuring that the measure is not more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve its legitimate objectives.
A new concern involving both digital and environmental issues was addressed at the Committee meeting. Members raised questions on how mandating the use of specific cables or connectors – USB Type-C receptacles – for mobile phones and other electronic equipment for the purpose of reducing electronic waste and for ease of use for consumers may hinder innovation and be contrary to existing international standards.
Other new concerns related to technical requirements for vehicles, classification requirements for alcoholic beverages, and safety and technical standards for children’s cosmetics.
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.