Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

Technical Barriers to Trade (Agreement on)

The new Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement came into force in 1995 and is binding on all World Trade Organization (WTO) Members, unlike its predecessor, the “Standards Code”. The objective of the Agreement is to ensure that Members do not use product requirements or compliance procedures to obstruct international trade unnecessarily.

All Members do have the right to restrict trade for “legitimate objectives” under the Agreement. These include the protection of animal, plant and human life or health, the protection of the environment, national security interests and the prevention of deceptive practices.

However, WTO Members must seek to avoid unnecessary obstacles to trade. This means that they should design technical requirements in a way that is not more restrictive than necessary to achieve their goal. By encouraging Members to base measures on international standards (for instance, WHO standards for health and safety requirements), the Agreement seeks to reduce administrative and legislative burdens on Members and to reduce the variety of technical requirements and conformity assessment procedures at a national level. The most-favoured-nation and national treatment principles of non-discrimination also both apply to the Agreement.

In 2000, one-third of all TBT regulations notified to the WTO had human health or safety as their objective. These included regulations to reduce electromagnetic radiation from radio communication equipment and to bar potential allergens from cosmetics. Countries are encouraged to use international standards such as the WHO standards of quality applicable to pharmaceutical, biological and food products. However, many low-income countries that are opening up their markets do not have the financial, judicial or state capacity to identify and implement such standards. This can leave low-income countries extremely vulnerable to the negative impacts of globalization.

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