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The impact of technical regulations on trade in goods is being increasingly recognised. The gradual reduction of tariff barriers to trade has been accompanied by an increase in the number of measures creating technical obstacles to trade, such as regulations on packaging and labelling or conformity assessment procedures. These regulations may be intended to pursue a legitimate objective, such as the protection of human health or safety. However, they are also sometimes wrongfully used in order to erect protectionist barriers around the domestic market.

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) is the main international instrument adopted to date in the field of technical regulations. This Agreement aims to ensure that regulations, standards and testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade.

The Agreement provides for a notification procedure which requires all Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to inform other Members, through the WTO Secretariat, of their proposed technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures. This procedure is a formidable instrument of transparency allowing all parties to the Agreement and economic operators to become acquainted with the technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures envisaged by other parties before these are adopted.

The existence of divergent technical regulations and different conformity assessment procedures can create a cost for enterprises, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, which, in order to export their products, must adapt their production to the requirements established in the recipient country. As a result, enterprises see their opportunities for making economies of scale limited, incur additional costs as a result of submitting their products to the various conformity assessment procedures and, finally, must support the costs linked to obtaining the necessary information.

The notification system established by the TBT Agreement forms an important source of information as it allows Community enterprises to find out about the conditions of access to markets of third countries, in particular so that they can make preparations to comply with these. It is also an important instrument of dialogue as it allows the various laws of third countries to be examined before these are adopted and, if necessary, to be discussed with the notifying country in order to get the latter to change its mind, particularly when the proposed measure is contrary to the obligations of the TBT Agreement. This specifically ensures that measures going against the interests of Community enterprises can be stopped from being adopted. The notification system also represents a useful source of information in the development of regulatory initiatives by the European Commission and Member States.

It is therefore essential that all those involved, particularly the national authorities and economic operators in the European Union, have a precise knowledge of the notification procedure established by the Agreement and are aware of its potential.

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