Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Tracey Epps and Michael J. Trebilcock
Chapter 15: Technical barriers to trade in information and communication technologies
Information and communication technologies require a certain level of compatibility and interoperability between individual system components or different communication devices for their smooth and full operation. The necessary level of compatibility and interoperability is commonly achieved by technical standardization of components or interfaces. The use of incompatible national technical regulations or standards for information and communication technologies in different countries can therefore create impenetrable non-tariff barriers for foreign manufacturers, which can lead to a significant reduction of international trade. To prevent an occurrence of unnecessary obstacles and distortions to international trade by a variety of differing national technical regulations and standards, the World Trade Organization (WTO) regime encourages the development and use of international standards under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (the TBT Agreement) to improve efficiency of production and to facilitate international trade. The importance of eliminating such technical barriers to trade in information and communication technologies is amplified by the size and significance of trade in such technologies. It has been one of the most dynamic segments in international trade since the second half of the 1990s. In 2008, the sector comprised 12.5 per cent of global trade in goods by approaching USD 4 trillion. Compared to 1996, the volume of trade tripled over slightly more than a decade. This chapter examines the impact of the regime created under the TBT Agreement on international trade in information and communication technology products and on their technical standardization at the international and national levels.
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