Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) aims to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary trade obstacles. While technical regulations are governed by the main body of the TBT, the Annex contains a Code of Good Practice regarding international voluntary standards such as those elaborated by the International Organization for Standardization. Standards administered by the private sector and other non-governmental entities fall outside the scope of the WTO rules.

The TBT permits technical standards that fulfil legitimate environmental objectives, such as climate change goals. Only product-related barriers are permitted and they should not discriminate against other members’ products, or create unnecessary barriers to trade.

As suggested earlier, at present there are several initiatives underway aiming to address environmental and social practice in biofuel production. To the extent that these are non-governmental voluntary initiatives, they would fall outside the scope of the TBT. However, there is growing concern about the impact of the proliferation of private environmental and social standards on market access for developing countries. These standards are driven by Northern countries’ concerns and are considered a new form of protectionism or so-called ‘market entry’ barriers. Though it is important to have guidance to ensure compliance with minimum environmental and social standards on biofuels, as there is potential for environmental and social damage, these initiatives need to be created in such a way that they do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade. The complex procedures and high costs usually associated with these assurance schemes also raise concerns about the regressive effect these may have on small producers in developing countries.