News: World - WTO industrial goods talks inch forward on non-tariff barriers
Negotiators working to reduce barriers to trade in manufactured goods as part of the troubled Doha Round talks took some more baby steps towards agreeing on how to address non-tariff measures as part of an eventual WTO accord.
Thursday, 22nd July 2010
The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) reports that while tariffs used to be the principal obstacle to trade in manufactures, they are rapidly being superseded by countries' differing regulations, health and safety standards, labelling requirements, and other rules that products need to meet in order to be sold in their territory. Existing WTO agreements - on sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, and import licensing procedures, to name a few - set out some principles governing such regulations, to ensure that they are not more trade-restricting than strictly necessary. The Doha mandate for the negotiations on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) calls for reducing "non-tariff barriers" (NTBs), particularly on products of export interest to developing countries. With WTO members deadlocked on what is now the main difference in the NAMA talks - whether large developing markets like China, Brazil, and India will participate in voluntary initiatives to slash tariffs deeply across entire industrial sectors - officials have focused on NTBs for much of the past year. "We have not yet reached consensus on all issues… but we are on the move," said Swiss WTO Ambassador Luzius Wasescha, who chairs the NAMA negotiations, following three days of consultations with various groups. Although the pace of progress has been glacial, members have been responding to each others' concerns and questions across a range of issues, from a proposed "horizontal mechanism" for quickly mediating trade irritants arising from non-tariff measures, to specific proposals for NTBs confronting trade in auto products, electronics, and chemicals. They also discussed a work programme that some countries are seeking on trade in "remanufactured goods," the definition of which remains contested. Remanufactured goods Government policies affecting trade in "remanufactured goods" - used products that have been refurbished and provided with a warranty - have been a contentious issue in the talks on NTBs. Pointing to several obstacles to trade in such products, Japan, the US, and Switzerland have been pushing for a work programme in the Council for Trade in Goods that would involve reviews and seminars on NTBs affecting remanufactured goods. Several developing countries, including India and Brazil, are wary of relaxing constraints on trade in such goods, fearing that, warranties notwithstanding, they might be less durable than new ones, compromise health and environmental objectives, and undercut domestic producers with second-hand wares soon be destined for the scrap heap. One negotiator noted to Bridges that part of the problem was that there was no agreed definition of a remanufactured good, either at the WTO or in many countries' national legislation. Furthermore, while in the rest of the negotiations countries first identified specific NTBs and then proposed policies to deal with them, in the case of remanufactured goods, advocates were "putting the cart before the horse." Wasescha referred to the disagreement about what constituted a remanufactured good, pointing to uncertainty over whether "reused, recycled, refurbished, or reconditioned" ones should qualify. "We came to come to the conclusion that cosmetic surgery was more refurbishing than remanufacturing," he joked. He reminded members that the objective was not to define the remanufacturing sector, but rather to address non-tariff measures in the sector. "We have to look at the measures preventing the exchange of such products, and identify whether the obstacles can be addressed with existing tools or whether new ones are necessary," he said.