Enhancing ACP Capacity in TBT Issues: WTO TBT Committee Meetings Highlights

Posted on: July 02, 2015

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The ACP Geneva project of the TBT Programme is an unusual type of support provided to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in at least two respects. First of all, the idea of collective ACP-level work and action on TBT – outside of the narrow scope of WTO negotiations – remains novel to the ACP Group in Geneva and to the ACP world more generally. This is reflected inter alia in the collaboration and consultation of delegates with clearly articulated interests in TBT work at the WTO.

Secondly, while TBT-related measures and activities are by their nature primarily addressed by capital-based officials, many ACP delegations in Geneva experience a deficit of communication with and instructions from capital on TBT matters. In spite of the challenges, the ACP Geneva TBT project has delivered tangible support, for instance through Assisting ACP participation in three meetings of the TBT Committee. These are on 16-20 March 2015, 15-19 June 2015 and 2-6 November 2015). 10 ACP country delegates have participated at the WTO At the June session, the TBT Programme supported the participation of ACP delegates from 10 countries, viz.: Jamaica, Samoa, Ghana, Vanuatu, Barbados. The PMU also attended the June meeting in order to assess the value of its intervention and was represented by Ms. Claudia Schiattarella (Project Manager) and Ms. Irina Kireeva (Expert on Technical Barriers to Trade).

The fact is that such the WTO TBT Committee meetings and the Triennial Review process has been used by the project as a platform if not “a springboard” (as suggested by the Team Leader) for both in-depth capacity building and, perhaps most importantly, for steps towards a genuine “ACP TBT Network” among stakeholders in Geneva, ACP capitals and ACP regions, including in particular the regional standards, metrology and accreditation organizations. Therefore, it is important to highlight the major points of discussions among the ACP participants in relation to such network:

  • ACP network - ACP missions in Geneva and ACP capitals in Geneva – linkage is necessary and would be of great help to the ACP delegations and capital based TBT experts; priorities should be made in relation to participation at the WTO meetings, however, there is a challenge to be technically equipped and benefit from the information provided – so, such ACP TBT Network should reply to such needs too.
  • Points of collaboration and coordination / how to improve the communication in a more structured way? What are the opportunities within the system? It was suggested to develop a Concept Note with options and various possibilities for a strategy to getting the objective of the establishing an ACP Network.
  • Importance of the Triennial Review – for implementation of the adopted measures – focus on the on-going projects (elements to be included as proposals for the activities in the nutshell) – that should also contribute to the interest in the ACP TBT Network establishment.
  • Further focus on “Markets being granted and markets penetrated or entered with specific goods” – these are two different things – a lot of African countries have experienced a true difference between those two notions, so, how to help penetration of the markets that are potentially open for the ACP goods? The ACP TBT Network should support the market penetration idea as much as possible.
  • TBT issues being cross cutting for a number of the WTO ACP Members – tobacco plain packaging, new trade concerns – what are the lessons to be learned? Such information can be shared with the help of the Network.
  • Regional organisation aspect – there are 5 African Organisations (AFRAC, AFSEC, ARSO, AFRIMETS, AAFEX) – how to ensure synergies with the work and initiatives of the regional organisations and learn from their best experiences of collecting information and establishing databases.
  • How do we ensure that trade barriers introduced will not effect negatively our trade concerns (should it be more regional concerns). What is the reality? How it should be addressed? Optimisation of the networks that already exist – to become more operational, so, we do not need another platform to be created. 
  • Yet, it should be recalled that not all ACP countries are at the same level of compliance with the WTO TBT Agreement, encouragement of the governments for a proper mechanism of coordination – such differences will be also reflected in needs and expectations from the Network (so, it should be taken into account while developing a Concept Note for a Network).
  • Inter and Intra-networking – sharing the ideas, networking is very important for information sharing – how to do that? What is the approach to be taken? Where do we start from – focus on national coordination and compliance or participation of the national experts from the capitals.
  • Overall objective of information sharing - reach the doors of the policy makers, agenda items to be discussed and prioritised to take the decisions. Network will achieve some results – from national to regional (influence in various areas), even if there is no national enquiry points – with the ACP Network established information can be obtained and dissimilatied.

Such discussions of the ACP group of delegates have been echoed by the major points of the WTO TBT Informal Meeting:

  • Good Regulatory Practice (from South Africa and Mexico) – suggesting information sharing and further discussions in relation to assessment of the impact of specific regulatory measures. From the ACP perspective, Regulatory Impact Assessments are very desirable as they can improve the market access, providing certainty and predictability in relation to technical regulation as well as to avoid unnecessary costs and burdens for producers and exporters. From local industry point of view, the quality of regulatory framework can be also improved with the conduct of impact assessment. However, it is understood that ACP countries may not be ready to undertake implicit or explicit commitments on conducting the regulatory impact assessment.

From the ACP EU TBT Programme Experts, important information on the projects supporting the Regulatory Impact Assessment has been shared with the ACP Members and countries showed interest in that matter.

  • Regulatory cooperation between members (proposal from Mexico) – recommendations for guidelines to be discussed and agreed among the WTO TBT Committee Members with a purpose of effective implementation of regulatory cooperation for trade facilitation. It should be noted that regulatory cooperation have not been a subject of previous Triennial Reviews, but often raised in the discussions. From the ACP point of view, regulatory cooperation is not only highly desirable, but crucial for continues building trust and confidence (also linked to the establishment of the common platform or network for the ACP Members within the current project of the TBT Programme). However, it can be suggested to enlarge the scope of regulatory cooperation targeting not only the trade facilitation, but also encompassing promotion of dialogue, better understanding of regulatory systems and approaches as well as overall improvement of quality infrastructure (using the best international practices and national experiences).
  • Conformity Assessment Procedures (numerous proposals from Japan, Chinese Taipei, Ukraine, the US) – all issues raised in relation to CAP (test results recognition, exchange of information on the Preferential Trade Agreements, enhance use of Mutual Recognition Agreement, the trade facilitation role to be realized through National as well as Regional Quality Infrastructures) are of relevance and importance for the ACP Members, and therefore they were encouraged to support the suggested proposals. It was highlighted that the proposal in relation to acceptance of test results did not place any obligations on the WTO Members and only encouraged such practices that would lead to reducing costs. However, acceptance of test results is only possible on condition of certain level of reliability that must be ensured (and one of the means would be accreditation of laboratories). 

From the ACP EU TBT Programme, it was underlined that support in capacity building for public and private sector of the ACP countries in relation to compliance and correct conduct of conformity assessment procedures for ensuring quality and conformity to the requirements in relation to products, services and persons is part of the most of the designed projects and activities in the ACP countries.

  • Standards (proposal from Australia) – proposal to encourage the adoption of international standards and policies, which requires internal audit process with systematic examination of the technical regulations. Therefore, although this national experience is of interest for the ACP countries, it might be difficult to implement it in practice in many ACP countries. In light of that participation of the ACP countries in the international standards development process is highly desirable.

From the ACP EU TBT Programme it should be communicated that a number of countries have requested technical support for development of the national standards and technical regulations with interest in the international standards setting organisations and their practices in developing standards.

  • Transparency (proposal from Japan, Uganda, Korea, South Africa, United States, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia) – this topic can be a subject of a separate contribution for the Newsletter of the ACP TBT Programme, as it reflects the overall objective of the TBT Agreement and is of great interest from the ACP perspective. In spite of the fact that many ACP Members face technical and financial challenges in upgrading their capacities and use of internet publications, greater transparency would be crucial for general goals of trade facilitation. An issue of drafts technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures notified to the WTO (with a brief description of the content, but not entire text translated in one of the official languages) was a focus of the South African proposal. Most (if not all) ACP Members operate in English, French or Spanish, therefore, measures notified from the ACP countries already comply with the language requirement and would not require translation, but would benefit from the fact that other markets would be more transparent for their existing or future experts (among them would be China, Russian Federation, Ukraine as well as many others). The United States proposed to the TBT Committee to take up discussions of notifications of regional technical regulations and identify best practices for the benefit of consistency. This proposal has a particular relevance for the ACP countries as a number of technical measures adopted by the PAQI members and CROSQ, so those organisations are encouraged to share their best practices and experience as well as provide further perspectives.

The TBT Committee Meeting held on 17-18 June 2015 was focusing on Specific Trade Concerns (new - 15 and previously raised - 40), which WTO Members have communicated for discussion. In total, there have been 55 points introduced – however, none of the trade concerns have been raised by the ACP countries or against the ACP countries.

The important trend has been detected in relation to raising concerns of the following nature:

  • Labelling requirements for food products and beverages (including GMO labelling – against EU, Chinese Taipei; against India in relation to Food Safety and Standards Regulation and regulations for Canola Oil; Chile – Food Health Regulations; Peru – Act to Promote Healthy Eating Among Children and Adolescents; Indonesia – Regulation on Labelling of Processed Foods on the inclusion of sugar, salt and fat content; Russian Federation – Technical Regulation on Safety of products for children and adolescents and Draft on Technical Regulation of Alcohol Drinks Safety; Thailand and Ecuador – Labelling of alcoholic beverages; Ecuador – Technical Regulation on the Labelling of Processed and Packaged Food Products; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Decree on the Sale and marketing of energy drinks);
  • Labelling of cosmetic products (Ecuador; Brazil – Labelling of Personal Hygiene Products, Cosmetics and Perfumes; China – Administrative Measures on Cosmetic Labelling; India – Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 2007 and others);
  • Safety of toys (Chinese Taipei – Legal Inspection of Toy Commodities; Turkey – Toy Communique 01/2015; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Certificate of Conformity for toys;
  • Energy Efficiency (Ecuador – labelling of electronic equipment; China – Batteries used in Portable Electronic Equipment).

Those concerns could be taken into account by the ACP countries in developing or upgrading their national legislation in relation to the sectors highlighted. 

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