Facilitating Trade through Regulatory Cooperation: The Case of the WTO’s TBT/SPS Agreements and Committees



Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

This publication explores how the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and their related Committees promote opportunities for international regulatory cooperation (IRC) between WTO members.

Policy makers can draw from a variety of approaches to achieve their policy objectives and address the trade costs of regulatory divergence, including unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally. International organizations serve as institutional fora within which governments can engage in IRC.

The WTO plays an important role in supporting members’ IR C efforts, through two key activities. First, the WTO provides a multilateral framework for the conduct of trade relations among its 164 members, with a view to ensuring that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. In particular, the WTO provides a forum for its members with respect to: (i) negotiations of trade agreements; (ii) the implementation, administration and operation of existing trade agreements; (iii) trade-related capacity building; and (iv) a dispute settlement system. Second, the WTO Agreements set important legal disciplines, the implementation of which promotes good regulatory practice (GRP) and IR C at the domestic level with the aim of reducing unnecessary barriers to trade.

This is particularly the case for the SPS and TBT Agreements, which establish obligations on WTO members for the preparation, adoption and application of technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures and standards, as well as SPS measures, in order to facilitate the conduct of international trade in goods. The Agreements provide a unique multilateral transparency framework that contributes to cooperation, by setting notification requirements for proposed regulatory measures with potentially significant trade effects. The Agreements strongly encourage WTO members to use relevant international standards as the basis for their measures. In addition, disciplines on equivalence and recognition of foreign conformity assessment results help ensure that traders do not face duplicative requirements or procedures when regulations differ across markets. These disciplines encourage the reduction of regulatory diversity and associated trade costs.

To support implementation and operation of these disciplines, the SPS and TBT Committees provide a forum for countries to learn about each other’s regulatory systems, discuss draft and implemented regulations affecting international trade and collaborate bilaterally and multilaterally to achieve less trade-restrictive regulations. In particular, members use the Committees to raise “specific trade concerns” (STCs) to provide feedback on draft measures of other members that may create unnecessary obstacles to trade, which contributes to peer learning. Moreover, the Committees periodically adopt guidance tools (e.g. decisions and recommendations) to help members to better and more efficiently implement specific provisions of the SPS and TBT Agreements.

This publication highlights how the legal disciplines of the SPS and TBT Agreements, and practices of their related Committees, can be used to support WTO members’ efforts to conduct and deepen IR C. It also identifies a number of opportunities WTO members could consider exploring for enhancing implementation, for example, with respect to the transparency provisions of the Agreements, the discussion of specific trade concerns, and monitoring the use of international standards.

In the past decades, both regulators and trade policy makers have paid increasing attention to the effectiveness and efficiency of regulation, through regulatory policy, or GRP and IR C. This publication aims to highlight how the disciplines of the SPS and TBT Agreements can help contribute to this goal. Differences may nevertheless remain in the practices of the trade and regulatory communities and the terminologies used. The study therefore provides background on the terminology and concepts used by the two communities in this area through a Readers’ Guide available at the end of the publication.


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