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 Presentation of the TBT agreement, its objectives and scope.

The objectives.

Before presenting the notification procedure in detail, the objectives and scope of the Agreement should be briefly set out.

Negotiated during the Uruguay Round, the TBT Agreement, which entered into force on 1 January 1995, increases the precision and binding force of the provisions of the plurilateral agreement on technical barriers to trade, known as the "Standards Code"», negotiated during the Tokyo Round (1973-1979) and signed by thirty-two contracting parties to GATT.

Unlike the Standards Code which, as a plurilateral agreement, applied only to the thirty-two countries having signed this, the TBT Agreement is a multilateral agreement which forms an integral part of the Agreement Establishing the WTO and therefore applies to all Members of this organisation. In addition, it is more binding than the Standards Code as, under Article 14.1 thereof, "Consultations and the settlement of disputes with respect to any matter affecting the operation of this Agreement shall take place under the auspices of the Dispute Settlement Body and shall follow, mutatis mutandis, the provisions of Articles XXII and XXIII of GATT 1994, as elaborated and applied by the Dispute Settlement Understanding.". This means that a Member to the Agreement may be penalised by the Dispute Settlement Body for infringing the rules laid down by this text.

The Agreement was incorporated into Community law through Council Decision 94/800/EC of 22 December 1994 concerning the conclusion on behalf of the European Community, as regards matters within its competence, of the agreements reached in the Uruguay Round multilateral negotiations (1986-1994).

The TBT Agreement stipulates the rules to be followed by governmental and non-governmental bodies when developing technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures. It lays down that technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures must not be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective and that they must be transparent and non-discriminatory. In addition, by stipulating that Members must use international standards as the basis for their technical regulations, it constitutes an instrument of harmonisation at international level. Finally, it encourages the mutual recognition of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures and includes a number of obligations with regard to assistance for developing countries.

The Agreement aims to protect the right of Members to establish regulations in order to pursue a legitimate objective while preventing the adoption of protectionist measures. To this end it has established a notification procedure which essentially aims to:

  • ensure transparency : the procedure allows all WTO Members to become acquainted with the technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures proposed by other Members;

  • establish a dialogue between the WTO Members: the notification procedure is an instrument of reaction and discussion. It gives all WTO Members the opportunity to comment on the various laws of other Members containing technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures before these are adopted and to engage in a discussion so that, if necessary, their content can be amended. At Community level, the procedure allows enterprises to find out about the conditions of access to markets of third countries and it prevents measures going against their interests from being adopted.
  • Scope.

    The TBT Agreement applies to technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures. These concepts are defined in Annex 1 to the Agreement (see below, point III.1).

    Article 1 specifies that the Agreement covers "all products, including industrial and agricultural products".

    However, there are two exceptions:

    Firstly, according to paragraph 4 of Article 1, the Agreement does not apply to purchasing specifications prepared by governmental bodies for production or consumption requirements of governmental bodies. These provisions are covered by the Agreement on Government Procurement, according to its coverage.

    Secondly, according to paragraph 5 of Article 1, the Agreement does not apply to sanitary and phytosanitary measures which are covered by the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).

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