- Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Tracey Epps and Michael J. Trebilcock
Chapter 2: The TBT Agreement in context
Technical barriers are a very common and, in principle, quite normal phenomenon in national and international trade. Indeed, governments very frequently choose to intervene in processes of production, marketing and consumption of goods and services through various regulatory and control mechanisms in order to protect legitimate societal objectives. Such societal objectives may include, inter alia, protection of public health and environment, safeguarding rights of employees and consumers, prevention of deceptive practices, ensuring national security interests, etc. In fact, nowadays almost all products sold are subjected to certain requirements related to their characteristics or packaging and labelling; for example, safety rules for automobiles, content and nutrition requirements for baby food products, packaging rules for cigarettes, requirements for materials used in production and packaging of toys, electronics, toilet paper and other useful daily consumer goods. However, such regulatory protection of legitimate societal values may also create unnecessary barriers to international trade. This could be the case, for instance, if protection of important societal objectives is used as a pretext for disguised protectionism, or if a measure is not appropriate for adequate protection of the claimed objectives. A measure may also unfairly discriminate against foreign products and put foreign producers at a serious disadvantage vis-à-vis domestic producers. Moreover, significant differences between national requirements for products and production processes per se may have negative effects on international trade, because producers in one country need to adjust their production methods in order to be able to export their products to another country.
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