WTO Members Discuss Product Safety in E-commerce, Use of Digital Tools, Air 65 Trade Concerns
· Online-purchased goods conform with safety and quality standards.
· Labelling of various products, such as alcoholic beverages, packaged food and personal computers.
· Blockchain was also cited as a tool used to help increase trust by enhancing transparency and accuracy of the conformity assessment process.
· A recent EU regulation which sets conditions for placing products potentially associated with deforestation and forest degradation on the EU market, or before exporting products from the EU market.
· EU responded that this measure had not been notified to the TBT Committee because it was outside the scope of the TBT Agreement.
· Members review the operation and implementation of the TBT Agreement, taking into consideration changes and new challenges in the area of standards and regulations.
At meetings of the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) on 6 to 10 November, WTO members discussed challenges in ensuring online-purchased goods conform with safety and quality standards. Members also discussed how digital technologies and tools can improve regulatory practices. Members raised concerns related to labelling of various products, such as alcoholic beverages, packaged food and personal computers, and the treatment of products potentially associated with deforestation, among other topics. Members adopted guidelines to enhance regulatory transparency.
Thematic session on conformity assessment and e-commerce
The session discussed various practices that can ensure the safety and quality of online-purchased products. The session highlighted the challenges related to the conformity assessment of goods in e-commerce due to the borderless nature of the internet, which can result in consumers being exposed to counterfeit and substandard products that pose serious safety, health and privacy risks.
The session also looked at the various ways members regulate to address safety of online products as well as tools and approaches that can enhance trust in e-commerce, such as e-labelling and accreditation. Blockchain was also cited as a tool used to help increase trust by enhancing transparency and accuracy of the conformity assessment process of these products.
Thematic session on the use of digital technologies and tools in good regulatory practices
The session underlined the way in which digital tools are increasingly used for managing regulatory processes and improving public awareness and accessibility to regulations. Digitization has increased stakeholder engagement with the regulatory process through web portals and sometimes even AI technologies. At the same time, sifting through huge volumes of digitally generated feedback and the evolving nature of these digital technologies were highlighted as challenges for regulators. Another challenge is the need for regulators to consistently develop the technical skills necessary to benefit from these digital tools.
Specific trade concerns
Members raised 11 new trade concerns and 54 previous ones.
Three of the new trade concerns focused on alcoholic beverages, covering their labelling, standards, safety, definition and advertising. Other topics were the mandatory labelling of packaged food for human consumption, washing machines, personal computers and products that include lasers. Reference was made to the voluntary use of e-labelling instead of physical labelling. Other new trade concerns related to standards for medical textiles and testing requirement for motor pumps and pharmaceutical products.
Members discussed a recent EU regulation which sets conditions for placing products potentially associated with deforestation and forest degradation on the EU market, or before exporting products from the EU market. The concern was raised by the United States, India, Colombia and Paraguay and supported by others.
While members support the overall objective of addressing deforestation at a global level, several members considered that the cumbersome implementation requirements provided in the regulation do not address the desired policy objectives. Others noted that the regulation would add billions in costs for a variety of industries and result in barriers to trade.
The EU responded that this measure had not been notified to the TBT Committee because it was outside the scope of the TBT Agreement. Underlining its commitment to transparency, the EU also noted that regular updates were being provided to the Committee on Trade and Environment, most recently during its meeting in June 2023.
A revised set of guidelines was adopted to improve regulatory transparency. They aim to enhance information contained in members' notifications and were developed by the Transparency Working Group in response to the Committee's work programme.
An ePing "walk in session" gave delegates the opportunity to share feedback on the digital platform, which allows users to track and manage information on product requirements.
Tenth Triennial Review
Every three years, members review the operation and implementation of the TBT Agreement, taking into consideration changes and new challenges in the area of standards and regulations. Members launched the discussion of the Tenth Triennial Review, which is scheduled to be completed in November 2024. On 6 November, the WTO Secretariat organized a dedicated briefing for delegates on how to participate in the Triennial Review process. Brazil and the United States shared their experiences on preparing proposals for past reviews.
The Secretariat provided an update on the technical assistance provided to members in the TBT area. This includes an upcoming regional workshop in Asia with the participation of 14 developing economies, including Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Viet Nam. An update on the Transparency Champions Programme for Africa was also provided.
In 2023, the WTO TBT team has organised 12 in-person national workshops (Bahrain, Cambodia, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guyana (upcoming), India, Kenya Morocco, Nigeria and Peru).
China provided an update on its proposal for a declaration on TBT at the 13th Ministerial Conference to be held in February 2024: “Draft Ministerial Declaration on Strengthening Regulatory Cooperation to Reduce Technical Barriers to Trade" (G/TBT/GEN/353). Several members spoke in support of the proposal and encouraged China to continue discussions with interested members.
Brazil presented its document entitled “Enhancing food security through the reform in agriculture and the use of current flexibilities”.
Observer organizations also updated the TBT Committee on activities related to standards and regulations.
The next regular meeting of the Committee will take place from 13 to 15 March 2024