Reducing protectionism in international trade

Removing international trade barriers
The [Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement] ([TBT Agreement]) was established in 1980 to minimize unnecessary obstacles to international trade by providing transparency and notification disciplines on technical regulations (defined as mandatory standards), standards (defined as voluntary standards) and conformity assessment procedures. It places obligations on Parties: a) not to discriminate; (b) not to create unnecessary obstacles to trade; (c) to encourage the use of international standards where appropriate for local needs; and (d) to create a high degree of transparency by prior notifications, giving opportunities for comments and consultants and (e) establishing equity points.

Under the [TBT Agreement], technical regulations are not permitted to create unnecessary obstacles to international trade and therefore cannot be more restrictive than is necessary to fulfil a legitimate objective. Legitimate objectives include national security requirements, prevention of deceptive practices, and the protection of human health or safety, animal, plant life or health, or the environment. A state may deviate from international standards where they would be ineffective or inappropriate for the fulfilment of the legitimate objective. States are permitted to maintain higher standards if they are scientifically justified or required by the member's own unilaterally determined higher level of protection. In addition, developing country members benefit from special and differential treatment under the Agreement, for example through an exception to international standards as a basis for their own technical regulations or standards not appropriate to their development.

Under the [TBT Agreement] voluntary standards are covered by a new [Code of Good Practice] which imposes an obligation to notify such standards and to publish adopted standards. Bodies adhering to the Code are also obliged to allow a period of at least 60 days for the submission of comments on draft standards by interested parties within the territory of a Member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and provide opportunities for consultation and to objective efforts to resolve any complaints. In 1994, an OECD Joint Session of Trade and Environment Experts ([Workshop on Ecolabelling and International Trade]) was of the opinion that provisions of the agreement have been little tested.

The European Commission (EC) is focusing its efforts on a targeted programme of barriers removal. This will mean concentrating on a limited number of economically important priority cases where the European Union can expect to achieve concrete results in the near future. On the basis of a set of key economic and legal criteria, the Commission has drawn up a target list of key barriers to be tackled through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), bilateral action and the development of market access packages with non-WTO countries (28 April 1999).

In 2002, the EC announced a groundbreaking plan to provide full duty and quota-free access for the world's 48 poorest countries (LDCs) into EU markets. The "Anything But Arms" (EBA) initiative covered all goods, except the arms trade; it allowed three-year transition periods for full liberalization on sugar, rice and bananas. Whilst in 1998, the EU was already the major destination for LDC exports (56% of the total, to a value of 8,714 million euro), this still excluded about 10% of the 10,500 tariff lines in the Community's tariff schedule and 1% of total trade flows.

1. International economic cooperation has always required the full involvement of the USA in one form or another. Therefore, much will depend on the mood in the USA, where at the moment protectionist sentiments are growing.

2. The European Union (EU) is regarded as protectionist, striving to protect its economic frontiers against external competition with tariffs, most recently against Central and East European countries.

3. Japan has always had a strong protectionist policy.

4. As relatively weak players, developing countries are likely more often to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of global protectionism and anti-competitive behaviour.

Caribbean Community
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality