Technical regulations and voluntary standards set out specific characteristics of a product (such as its size, functions and performance) and how it is labelled or packaged before it enters the marketplace.
These measures usually serve legitimate goals of public policy – e.g. protecting human health and safety, or the environment.
At the same time, these technical standards and regulations can have an important influence on international trade. They can vary from country to country, or be costly and burdensome by design or effect. The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade contains rules specifically aimed at preventing these measures from becoming unnecessary barriers.
OECD work on technical barriers to trade (TBT)
To deepen understanding of their nature and trade effects, OECD is investigating various types of technical barriers as part of its work programme on non-tariff barriers to trade. It is pursuing work in the area of product labelling, where practices have grown more complex in recent years and traders and governments have voiced concerns about potentially negative implications for market access.
Other work under way focuses on conformity assessment (CA) procedures. These procedures assess conformity of products, processes and services to specific requirements or standards and typically involve components such as testing, certification and accreditation.
In this area, the OECD recently collected data assessing the nature and extent of trade problems arising from conformity assessment (CA) procedures. This exercise involved two factual surveys aimed at 1) exporters and 2) conformity assessment bodies in a selection of OECD member countries and carried out in 2004-2005. Case studies documenting experiences of exporters in developing countries, and a review of the CA discussion taking place in the WTO Committee on TBT since 1995, will complement this work and feed into the analysis of trade problems and opportunities seen to arise from CA procedures and practices.
Recent OECD working papers on TBT:
The Use of International Standards in Technical Regulation
) (OECD Trade Policy Working Paper No. 102)
To what extent do governments use international standards in their technical regulations? This paper looks at the electrical household appliance, natural gas equipment and telephony sectors in Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, United States and the European Union.
International Standards and Trade - A Review of the Empirical Literature
(OECD Trade Policy Working Paper No. 97)
How do international standards affect international trade? This paper surveys empirical studies investigating this relationship. Its main focus is on econometric studies, but surveys and some of the literature investigating the relationship between standards and other economic measures, such as productivity, growth and welfare are also covered.
Recent OECD workshops on TBT: