Second triennial review of the operation and implementation of the agreement on technical barriers to trade I. Introduction




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B. Notifications and Procedures for Information Exchange


1.The Committee reiterated the importance of the transparency provisions of the Agreement, in particular those related to notifications of draft technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures as well as to the establishment of enquiry points, as required under Articles 2.9.2, 2.10.1, 5.6.2, 5.7.1, 10.1 and 10.2 of the Agreement. The Committee also noted the low level of notifications of technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures of local governments at the level directly below that of the central government in Members as required under Articles 3.2 (in relation to Articles 2.9.2 and 2.10.1) and 7.2 (in relation to Articles 5.6.2 and 5.7.1). The Committee recognized that regulatory responsibility existed in a number of Members at the sub national level. However, since the entry into force of the Agreement, only 7 such notifications had been made. The Committee recalled that at the First Triennial Review, Members had been invited to provide information to indicate if local government bodies in their jurisdiction, directly below the central government level, were authorized to adopt technical regulations or conformity assessment procedures. The Committee urged Members who had not responded to that request to do so. The Committee further noted that greater efforts were required by Members to explain the Agreement to their local government bodies and to remind Members of their obligations with respect to notifications.

2.The Committee reaffirmed Members' obligations to designate a single central government authority responsible for the implementation at the national level of the provisions concerning notification procedures as stated under Articles 10.10 and 10.11, and to ensure the publishing of adopted technical regulations in accordance with Article 2.11. The Committee noted that at the national level, notifications were often not made due to lack of awareness of the TBT obligations or the lack of priority given to implementing these provisions by relevant agencies. In some cases, it appeared that the agency responsible for submitting notifications was not made aware of draft regulations created by other national authorities. The need for coordination between relevant agencies was important. Inadequate coordination could also hinder the provision of comments on other Members' notifications within the comment periods, which in some cases were shorter than the period recommended by the Committee.

3.The Committee noted the increasing number of notifications made under Articles 2.9 and 5.6, as well as the increasing number of notifying Members. However, certain Members still faced problems relating to notifications, including the length of time allowed for comments, as well as the provision of comments on other Members' notifications. The Committee reiterated that it was important for Members to follow the relevant Committee recommendations and decisions in this regard. Members were encouraged to give sympathetic consideration to requests from other Members for an extension of comment period beyond 60 days, particularly in regard to notifications relating to products of interest to developing country Members. Wherever possible, Members were encouraged to provide information, including the text of draft regulations, through an internet web-site. With a view to ensuring the more efficient and effective functioning of the transparency provisions, the Committee adopted a number of decisions and recommendations, and agreed to the revised notification format as attached in Annex 3.

4.At the conclusion of the Second Triennial Review, 103 Members have submitted information concerning their national enquiry points (Annex 2). The Committee considered that this status of implementation was not satisfactory. The Committee reiterated the importance of enquiry points providing information in accordance with Article 10.1, including information on any proposed or adopted technical regulations.

5.The Committee noted that in some cases, the problems faced by Members with respect to the establishment and functioning of their national enquiry points and notification procedures were due to the lack of financial and human resources as well as access to modern telecommunication networks and equipment. There was a need for enquiry points to improve cooperation with regulatory authorities in order to respond to queries within an adequate period of time. Technical cooperation within regions aimed at sharing experience could also be helpful. Taking into account the result of the Survey on Members' national enquiry points related to their electronic facilities, the Committee agreed, as indicated in paragraph 4 of Annex 3 (see page 21), to examine the steps that would be needed to facilitate the electronic transmission of information among Members to complement the provision of documents in hard copy form.

6.The Committee recognized that the dissemination of information and knowledge was a key element of capacity building that could assist Members in fulfilling their obligations and benefitting from the Agreement, in particular in relation to its notification and information exchange provisions. In this respect, the Committee noted the important role that information technology could play to assist relevant bodies of Members, both at the national level as well as in the context of regional and international cooperation. This could also facilitate the participation in international standardization work by means of electronic transmission of documents, provision of written comments and electronic voting. The dissemination of information to industry concerning the use of international standards and standards-related requirements in the market-place could enhance the transfer of technology, market access possibilities and competitiveness. A number of developing country Members had expressed their need for assistance in the acquisition of information technology products and optimization of databases and networks.


C. International Standards, Guides and Recommendations


1.The Committee noted that international standards, guides and recommendations were important elements of the Agreement and played a significant role in its implementation. Articles 2.4, 2.5, 5.4, and Paragraph F of Annex 3 of the Agreement placed an emphasis on the use of international standards, guides and recommendations as a basis for domestic standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures, with the objective of reducing trade barriers. Articles 2.6, 5.5 and Paragraph G of Annex 3 emphasized the importance of Members' participation in international standardization activities, with a view to harmonizing technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures and standards on as wide a basis as possible.

2.At the First Triennial Review, the Committee had noted that difficulties might be encountered in relation to the use of certain international standards and that trade problems could arise. With a view to developing a better understanding of international standards within the Agreement, the Committee had agreed to, among other things, explore ways and means of improving the implementation of the provisions relating to enhancing Members' awareness of, and participation in, the work of international standardizing bodies; to invite Members to submit information on the difficulties and problems they encounter in relation to international standards; to increase Members' awareness of the activities of international standardizing bodies; and to consider the appropriate means for the Committee to express its views to these organizations regarding the preparation of international standards.

3.The Committee noted that a diversity of bodies were involved in the preparation of international standards (i.e. intergovernmental or non governmental bodies; specialized in standards development or involved also in other related activities), and that different approaches and procedures were adopted by them in their standardization activities. However, the obligation under the Agreement for Members to use international standards was the same.

4.In order for international standards to make a maximum contribution to the achievement of the trade facilitating objectives of the Agreement, it was important that all Members had the opportunity to participate in the elaboration and adoption of international standards. Adverse trade effects might arise from standards emanating from international bodies as defined in the Agreement which had no procedures for soliciting input from a wide range of interests. Bodies operating with open, impartial and transparent procedures, that afforded an opportunity for consensus among all interested parties in the territories of at least all Members, were seen as more likely to develop standards which were effective and relevant on a global basis and would thereby contribute to the goal of the Agreement to prevent unnecessary obstacles to trade. In order to improve the quality of international standards and to ensure the effective application of the Agreement, the Committee agreed that there was a need to develop principles concerning transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus, relevance and effectiveness, coherence and developing country interests that would clarify and strengthen the concept of international standards under the Agreement and contribute to the advancement of its objectives. In this regard, the Committee adopted a decision containing a set of principles it considered important for international standards development (Annex 4). These principles were seen as equally relevant to the preparation of international standards, guides and recommendations for conformity assessment procedures. The dissemination of such principles by Members and standardizing bodies in their territories would encourage the various international bodies to clarify and strengthen their rules and procedures on standards development, thus further contributing to the advancement of the objectives of the Agreement.

5.The Committee noted that even when the above-mentioned principles were observed by international standardizing bodies, inappropriate, ineffective or obsolete international standards might still exist. In this regard, the Committee recognized that Articles 2.4, 5.4 and paragraph F of Annex 3 provided Members with the flexibility to avoid having to use inappropriate or ineffective international standards as the basis for their technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures. As indicated in the attached principles, the Committee noted the importance of international standardizing bodies putting in place procedures aimed at identifying and reviewing standards, guides and recommendations to ensure their continued fitness for use, while taking into consideration differences in technological development among Members.

6.The Committee agreed that regular information-exchange between the Committee and relevant bodies involved in the development of international standards was useful. The Committee agreed that its observers should be invited to provide regular updates on their activities at Committee meetings, and the Secretariat was requested to prepare a programme for such regular updates on an annual basis. In this context, the Committee would invite these bodies to inform it on the ways in which they were seeking to ensure effective participation of Members, and particularly of developing country Members in their activities.

7.The Committee also noted that situations could arise where no relevant international standards existed or their completion was not imminent. As an interim measure until suitable international standards were developed, the Committee noted that in some cases standardizing bodies or regulators in the territories of some Members had chosen to accept as equivalent standards originating from other Members, even though these standards differed from their own, on the basis that such standards fulfilled their objectives. The Committee considered that Members may find it useful to further explore equivalency of standards as an interim measure to facilitate trade in the absence of relevant international standards. Taking into account the obligation of Members under Article 2.6, the Committee emphasized that the possible use of this approach must not hinder the process of development of international standards, guides and recommendations.

8.The Committee noted that international standardization was an area where developing country participation was still limited and constrained. Some of the reasons identified for this situation were the lack of technical capacity, the location of secretariats and meetings, as well as other constraints in the areas of financial and human resources which impeded participation in meetings. This was recognized as an area for ongoing attention within international and regional bodies. The Committee also noted that certain Members encountered problems relating to the translation of international standards into their national languages.

9.To assist in resolving the problem of participation, the Committee noted that it was important to prioritize the international standardization activities related to products or subject-matter of particular interest to developing countries. It was critical for developing country Members, as part of their national consultation, to assess products/sectors of priority interest to them for international standardization, so that resources could be appropriately targeted. It was suggested that international standardizing bodies should seek to secure greater developing country participation as chairpersons or secretariats in various technical committees, including, where appropriate, rotation of chairs and secretariats. Another solution was to facilitate effective participation by means of information technologies, such as using email and video conferencing as alternatives to traditional meetings. Such an approach could also provide solutions to the financial constraints faced by developing countries regarding their participation in international standardization. Increasing awareness and co-ordination at the national level among stakeholders with respect to the importance of international standards related to trade interests could help to strengthen the financial and human resources of national standardization bodies, thus enhancing their effectiveness in the international standardization process. Regional cooperation could also contribute to the efficient and effective use of resources and act as a useful way to influence the international standardization process.

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