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    Technical Barriers to Trade


    Part 2: Basic principles of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (Contd)


    Difference between the Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Sanitary & Phytosanitary Measures (SPS)

    So far, the discussion has focussed on technical regulations, standards and systems adopted for conformity assessment. The international rules in these areas, which are contained in the Agreement on TBT, apply to both industrial and agricultural products. Imported agricultural products may in certain cases have to conform not only to technical regulations but also to the importing country's sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

    What are sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures? And how do they differ from technical regulations?

    SPS measures, are adopted by countries to protect:

    • Human or animal life from food-borne risks, which arise from the use of additives, contaminants, toxins, or disease-causing organisms (food safety)

    • Human health from animal-or plant-carried diseases

    • Animals and plants from pests and diseases

    • From the risks arising from damages caused by the entry, establishment or spread of pests

    Regulations adopted for other purposes in order to protect human, animal or plant life, would be treated as technical regulations and would therefore be a TBT issue.

    Differences between technical regulations and SPS measures

    The basic difference between technical regulations and sanitary and phytosanitary measures arises from the objectives for which they are adopted. In the case of SPS measures, the aim is limited and specific-to protect human, animal and plant life or health by ensuring food safety and preventing animal and plant-borne diseases from entering a country. Technical regulations, on the other hand, are imposed for a variety of policy objectives. They include, as noted earlier, national security requirements, prevention of deceptive practices and protection of the environment. They may be adopted to protect human health or safety, or animal of plant life for objectives other that those for which health and sanitary measures are implemented.

    The rules of the WTO Agreement on TBT differ from those of the SPS Agreement in four important respects:

    • Scientific evidence: In the WTO Agreement on TBT the use of scientific evidence would depend on the objectives for which the technical regulations were adopted, while in the case of the SPS Agreement any adopted measure must be based on scientific evidence, the latter is obligatory and unequivocal. (Health and safety measures must be based on scientific evidence, while it is not relevant in regulations to protect consumers against deceptive practices or in case of national security. However, a valid justification is still required).

    • Application on MFN basis: The WTO Agreement on TBT requires that technical regulations be applied on the most favoured nation basis and apply equally to like products from all sources. SPS measures preventing diseases from entering the country may be more or less demanding depending on the 'level of prevalence of specific diseases or pests' in that country.

    • International standards: The WTO Agreement on TBT requires the use of international standards, and specifies conditions under which deviations would be acceptable. The SPS Agreement, however, also requires the use of international standards for trade, but gives countries an unrestrained right to introduce additional SPS measures if they are based on scientific evidence, and if a risk assessment has shown that a higher level of protection is appropriate. It defines standards from CAC, OIE and IPPC as accepted international standards.

    • Precautionary measures: The SPS Agreement permits countries to adopt SPS measures on a provisional basis as a precautionary measure when there is a risk of the spread of diseases, but scientific evidence is insufficient. The WTO Agreement on TBT does not contain any such provision.


    Following are some examples to illustrate differences between TBT and SPS measures:

    • Technical regulations on pesticides specify quality or efficacy (performance) of the product, or a safety risk to the handlers. SPS measures specify residues in food or animal feed with the objective to protect human/animal health

    • Technical regulations on labelling concern the typeface of the label, grade or information on the contents. The information relating to health protection e.g. 'best before date' may be included in an SPS measure

    • Technical regulations on containers specify size or structure of the container. SPS measures deal with fumigation or disinfecting treatment for preventing spread of pests for shipment of grains

    Neither WTO nor the Agreement on TBT lay down rules concerning structures, which member Governments should establish in order to maintain communication with WTO, but it is expected that a single central Government Authority be designated to handle WTO matters. It is required that Central Government take full responsibility for the compliance of the member country with all WTO requirements.

    Generally, however, Governments do not act in isolation. Members find it convenient to establish some structures for the purpose of handling and evaluating notifications to and from WTO, and taking decisions on the country's position following notifications received from WTO. They establish formal institutional mechanisms for consultation with business associations, chambers of commerce, trade associations, on the issues discussed by WTO. These consultations are aimed at obtaining the views of the business community on policy approaches they should adopt on specific issues under negotiation, and the position they should take on proposals made at WTO meetings.

    TBT requires countries to establish an enquiry point and a central government authority for notification. For a member country to fully participate in WTO TBT matters it will be in the country's best interests to ensure that a central/national standardizing body (NSB) is operational within the country, and that Government and/or non-Government facilities are available to carry out conformity assessment procedures. Where such structures have not been established as in some developing countries, the WTO TBT Agreement obliges developed countries to assist with the establishment of these structures on mutually agreed terms.




    Related articles
    - Part 1: What are technical barriers to trade?

    - Part 2: Basic principles of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade