Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Tracey Epps and Michael J. Trebilcock
Chapter 7: International standards
International trade has increased considerably over the last half century. Concomitant with the increase in international trade, concerns have arisen over imports from foreign jurisdictions, e.g. regarding the use of health and safety standards. A common response to these concerns was domestic legislation that required certain minimum standards to be followed either for the products themselves or the way that the goods were produced. Such requirements can be divided into two forms: mandatory requirements by governments and voluntary standards set forth by standardization organizations. The latter, while not having the power of law, often become de facto requirements if a producer wants to export to another country. Given that domestic administrative bodies and domestic standardization organizations often acted independently from one another, there has been an increased realization that some domestic or regional standards can be an impediment to international trade because adapting a particular product to individual local markets entails – sometimes considerable – costs. This has led to an increase in harmonization over the last decades.In the realm of the WTO, two agreements deal specifically with this phenomenon: the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) governs matters relating to food and agricultural safety, while the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) has a wider field of application and deals with technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures. The TBT Agreement includes as one of its central provisions the obligation to use ‘international standards’ as a ‘basis’ for the technical regulations.
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