- Research Handbooks on the WTO series
Edited by Tracey Epps and Michael J. Trebilcock
Chapter 14: The TBT Agreement and private standards
During my first days as a Fellow at an American university, I was unable to understand why my documents always printed out so badly. The cause turned out to be the lack of a standardized paper size between Europe and the US. I then learned that the standard format in the US is ‘Letter’, and not ‘A4’ as used by Europeans and by more than 90 per cent of the rest of the world. The A4 format follows the ISO 216 standard, which is arguably more efficient. As of 2012, more than 19 000 ISO standards have been adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). In addition to the ISO standards, a plethora of private regulatory regimes are re-shaping the rules of the game relating to contemporary supply chains: from private schemes for food safety (e.g. GlobalGAP) to eco-labeling (e.g. Rain Forest Alliance) and fair trade products (e.g. Max Havelaar). By ‘standardizing’ different and otherwise incompatible products, transnational private standards have contributed to enhancing the process of economic globalization. Today, however, questions are raised as to whether the burgeoning phenomenon of (transnational) private regulation is working as an impediment to free trade. One of the few international agreements explicitly addressing the standards adopted and implemented by ‘non-governmental bodies’ is the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (‘TBT Agreement’).
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