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What is the WTO?

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

  The World Trade Organization is an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade. The organization was established in 1995 through a series of negotiations held under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which it replaced.

Central to the WTO multilateral trading system are the WTO's agreements. These include the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which regulates trade in goods, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which regulates trade in services and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), as well as a series of other agreements and annexes which support the GATT and GATS, including the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT).

The agreements have been negotiated and signed by a large majority of the world's trading nations. These agreements provide the legal 'ground-rules' to international trade, which enable producers of goods and services, exporters and importers to conduct business transparently and predictably.

Jamaica became a member of the WTO in March 1995 and, with this membership, became party to the WTO agreements - including the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.

What are Technical Barriers to Trade?

The term ‘technical barriers to trade’ (TBT) refers to both the mandatory technical regulations and the voluntary standards that define the specific characteristics of a product: its size, weight, shape, design, labeling, marking, packaging, ingredients, shelf-life conditions, functionality or performance, as well as the associated ‘conformity assessment procedures’ (e.g. testing, inspection and certification activities).

Technical regulations and product standards are typically introduced by government authorities to achieve legitimate public policy objectives, such as protecting human health and safety; animals, plants and the environment; as well as safeguarding consumers from deceptive practices.

However, these measures invariably affect trade as well.Overly stringent and widely varying technical regulations and standards can create major trade obstacles, particularly for developing countries like Jamaica. For example, consider the costs related to translating foreign regulations, hiring technical experts to explain these regulations, the adjustment of production facilities to comply with the requirements and the need to prove that the exported product indeed meets the regulations. These challenges impede developing countries in particular from accessing global markets and integrating into international production and supply chains.

TBT Agreement

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) entered into force with the establishment of the WTO on January 1, 1995. It aims to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. At the same time, the TBT recognizes members' rights to implement measures to protect human health and safety and the environment.

In order to avoid the creation of trade barriers, the TBT ensures that implemented requirements are based on scientific evidence are are neither arbitrary nor overly-burdensome. In addition, the TBT makes certain that technical regulations are applied on the basis of the most-favored-nation (i.e. all countries treated the same) and are no more difficult for imported products than they are for products produced nationally.

The TBT Agreement also includes a Code of Good Practice that national standardizing bodies should comply with. The Code encourages the utilization of international standards, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis, where these standards exist. The Code therefore encourages the harmonization of standards on as wide a basis as possible.

A cornerstone of the TBT agreement is ‘transparency’.

Transparency, in this context, means that WTO members can secure information from any other member related to technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures in a straightforward manner. This serves to create a predictable trading environment for all. The agreement also ensures that all WTO members are notified of any new requirements necessitated by another WTO member before these requirements are implemented. The notification procedure allows companies the opportunity to review any proposed requirements to ensure that they do not breach the provisions of the TBT agreement.

The TBT Agreement is binding on all members of the WTO and accordingly, Jamaica is responsible for upholding the obligations outlined therein - including, of course, those related to transparency. The TBT agreement requires the establishment of an enquiry point and a notification authority. The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has been designated the role of National Enquiry Point, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (MFAFT) serving as the National Notification Authority.

The role of an enquiry point is to facilitate the exchange of information. More succinctly, the role of an enquiry point is to manage incoming comments on notified measures, respond to enquiries and provide relevant information and documents.

SPS Agreement

The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the "SPS Agreement") is another key agreement of the World Trade Organization. It concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations.

While many of the principles of the TBT and SPS Agreements are the same, such as: sovereignty, harmonization, equivalency, scientific basis, fair trade and transparency, the agreements should not be confused.

The SPS Agreement considers measures that protect health, as well as animals and plants from, for example, pests, diseases, toxins and contaminants. While the TBT Agreement considers technical requirements, such as product characteristics, including packaging and labeling that impact the safety of the consumer and ensure reliable and consistent products.

The SPS Focal Point in Jamaica is the Plant Quarantine Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries).

Resources

 

Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

Understanding the WTO

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Bureau of Standards Jamaica
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Tel: (876) 618-1534, (876) 632-4275

Email: info@bsj.org.jm