Do Bilateral and Regional Approaches for Reducing Technical Barriers to Trade Converge Towards the Multilateral Trading System?
As part of its work on regionalism, the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate has completed a series of studies that compare rule-making provisions in regional trade agreements with those in the World Trade Organisation (e.g., in the area of services, investment and competition). This paper aims to complement existing studies, by examining legal provisions regarding "technical barriers to trade" (i.e., technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures) in selected bilateral and regional trade agreements, and their degree of similarity and convergence with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, and with each other. The study reveals that most provisions regarding technical barriers to trade (TBT) included in bilateral and regional trade agreements converge towards the multilateral trading system. When implemented effectively, agreements seeking deeper economic integration and regulatory cooperation, in particular, can complement and strengthen the implementation the WTO Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade by setting the pace for improved regulatory practices and TBT-related infrastructure in member countries (e.g., through regional consultation fora and joint standardisation and accreditation bodies). Some caveats however remain. When overlapping agreements promote different criteria for the harmonisation of standard-related measures and when bilateral or regional initiatives are conducted in isolation from international efforts and divert attention from multilateral trade and standards-related negotiations, new obstacles may arise both for regulators and businesses. Such constraints are further magnified for low income countries afflicted by administrative and technical capacity-related problems. To remedy these potential problems, the study proposes a number of policy recommendations.
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