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    Standards Experts Agree Steps to Improve Market Access For Developing Countries


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2005

    Standards experts recommended measures to help developing countries, so that standards on goods don't act as trade barriers.

    Experts on product standards from around the world met to discuss how to help developing countries overcome market access barriers relating to technical standards at a workshop in Geneva (June 2005).

    While the agreement concluding the Uruguay Round of trade talks lowered many tariffs, exporting countries still face trade barriers in the form of high standards for industrial and other goods. To reduce these barriers, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) - for industrial goods - and on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures (for plant and animal imports) require countries to base their regulations on international standards.

    Standards can restrict trade

    However, the standards often do not reflect their concerns since most developing countries, particularly least developed countries, are unable to participate effectively in setting standards. Lacking the infrastructure to check and certify technical standards (known as conformity assessment), these countries face another problem when trying to prove that their products meet international standards.

    ITC and the Commonwealth Secretariat conducted case studies in six developing countries to review their implementation of the WTO Agreements on TBT and SPS, and the technical problems they faced when exporting. The studies resulted in a joint publication entitled Influencing and Meeting International Standards: Challenges for developing countries, which contains recommendations to help developing countries to overcome technical problems with market access.

    The recommendations for technical assistance include:

    • Mentoring and twinning arrangements to improve developing countries' participation in standardization activities at international level.

    • Creating greater awareness among industry and trade associations of the need to take more active interest in standardization activities at national and international level.

    • Practical help to meet requirements in export markets, for example through brochures that explain technical regulations and SPS measures applicable to certain products.

    • Help to establish export-alert systems to signal changes in technical regulations and SPS measures.

    • Assistance to improve recognition of conformity assessment certificates.

    Workshop reviewed recommendations

    The meeting in Geneva, organized by ITC and the Commonwealth Secretariat, was to review the recommendations and eventually lead to project proposals for technical assistance. Over 60 participants attended the workshop, including experts on TBT and SPS from 22 developed and developing countries, and representatives of 19 regional and international organizations, including international standard-setting organizations.

    The recommendation for mentoring and twinning arrangements between countries attracted a lot of attention. Under this scheme, countries with more experience in setting standards would help others to participate. The original recommendation was to start this mechanism on a South-South basis as conditions in developing countries are similar, with funding coming mostly from the countries themselves. There were many comments and suggestions to fine-tune this arrangement, among them that donor funding would be required and that assistance from international organizations would need to be coordinated to avoid duplication.

    Participants requested both the Commonwealth Secretariat and ITC to prepare programmes to help developing countries comply with the requirements of technical regulations and SPS measures of importing countries, and submit them to donor countries for financial resources.

    Papers presented at the workshop are available on ITC's web site (http://www.intracen.org/eqm). For more information, contact Shyam Gujadhur, ITC Senior Adviser on Standards and Quality Management, at gujadhur@intracen.org