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Avoiding barriers to global trade

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While all countries have the right to adopt technical regulations to achieve legitimate purposes (e.g. ensuring public health or protecting the environment and consumers) the TBT Agreement (Technical Barriers to Trade) helps prevent unfair, protectionist measures. Administered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the TBT Agreement alerts European businesses about potential new regulations and encourages global harmonisation and mutual recognition. European businesses can contribute to work of the European Commission on avoiding technical barriers to trade. This collaboration benefits enterprises large and small. The resulting collaboration benefits enterprises large and small.

In an effort to avoid technical barriers to trade with non-EU countries, the TBT Agreement provides for a notification system for European enterprises. The EU-TBT database, which is managed by the European Commission, informs economic operators about new technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures envisaged by other countries before they are adopted through email alerts.

As a result, the TBT Agreement facilitates preparation to comply with market access conditions, and gives companies a chance to contribute to shaping those conditions. Indeed, with WTO Members allowed to discuss the proposals with the notifying country, there is ample opportunity to amend the content of the notified measure, or even prompt its withdrawal.

The notification procedure

Relevant trade regulations are to be submitted at the draft stage, which allows WTO Members to assess the potential impact of the measure. And this is where the EU TBT database managed by the European Commission is so valuable: It notifies European enterprises of any new proposal in their sector.By simply subscribing to amailing list, users are automatically alerted about any new proposal in a particular sector.

Sixty days for reaction

Upon circulation of the proposed measure, the so-called ‘period for comments’ begins. The TBT Committee has recommended allowing a minimum of 60 days during which the adoption process is frozen, and written comments can be sent on the proposed measure. Next, comments are sent directly by the EU TBT Enquiry Point to the WTO member that proposed the measure. If anyone believes that the proposed measure runs counter to principles of the TBT Agreement, they are encouraged to contact the European Commission’s TBT team (see address below).

Enterprises can contact the TBT team via email, indicating the name of their company and the problematic notification, as well as why they think it could create barriers to their exports. As an alternative to email, they may fill in an online form to summarise their concerns.

Ideally, the EU TBT Enquiry Point should receive comments three weeks before the final deadline set by the notifying WTO member in the notification form.

Definitive text of the comments

The Commission, based on the reactions of enterprises, EU Member States and its own departments, prepares the definitive text of the comments which is then sent to the enquiry point of the notifying WTO Member on behalf of the EU. These reactions are mainly aimed at preventing the adoption of measures that create unnecessary obstacles to trade or go against the interests of EU enterprises. The Commission may also seek to delay the implementation of measures to allow EU exporters to adapt and use up their stocks.

The notifying Member will then discuss the EU comments and take them into account. As a result, such comments may give rise to bilateral and even multilateral discussions within the TBT Committee, causing a measure to be amended, postponed or even withdrawn. In other cases, a productive dialogue between WTO members can bring useful clarifications or lead to an exchange of views on regulatory approaches.

Identifying possible technical barriers to trade

Countries adopting new technical regulations or new conformity assessment procedures are required to notify WTO partners.

Technical regulations establish product characteristics and production methods. Technical regulations are mandatory (contrary to voluntary standards), such as requirements on product size, composition, packaging and labelling.

Conformity assessment procedures are any procedure used to determine whether or not relevant requirements in technical regulations or standards are fulfilled. This includes procedures for sampling, inspection, verification and assurance of conformity.

Refrigerators

A real-life example of this process involved new refrigerator regulations. After a non-EU WTO Member uploaded proposed regulation amendments to the EU TBT database, economic operators sent comments to the Enquiry Point; these comments were then sent to the notifying country. After receiving the comments, authorities in the notifying country explained how they would take them into account. As a result, EU refrigerator manufacturers knew at the earliest possible stage whether or not they needed to adapt their production to meet these requirements.

Contact

For more information, click here.

Contact: EU TBT Enquiry Point, DG Enterprise and Industry, rue Belliard 100, B- 1040 Brussels, + 3222956396, + 3222998043, eu-tbt@ec.europa.eu

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