Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TBTs, WTO and protectionism

The debate in the international economic law and policy space with respect to protectionism has shifted from tariffs and import restrictions to a new form - technical barriers to trade. With recent disputes at the WTO focusing on technical measures and holding them incompatible with WTO law, the balance between regulating domestic policy space with such measures and barriers to trade is a delicate one. While some argue that the WTO Appellate Body decisions in COOL, Tuna and Clove Cigarettes is an infringement of domestic policy space, others take the position that discriminatory measures do impact trade and are unreasonable restrictions on free trade. The decisions have initiated a jurisprudence around the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement which will develop over the years. the focus of disputes too will gradually shift from issues on tariffs to more subtle, nuanced technical measures.

An interesting conference on this topic is being held at the WTO Public Forum on this subject.Titled "TBTs on the Rise: The Future of Consumer Information Labels, Sustainability Standards and Product Bans in the Light of Latest WTO Case Law", it seeks to throw light on the several issues on this sententious topic.

"Ruling on the three disputes this year, the WTO Appellate Body, for the first time, established case law on various key TBT issues. The approach(es) deployed will critically inform future policy making on related areas – be it on biofuels, animal welfare or climate-related standards.
It is against this background that the session will explore the current technical regulation and standard landscape and the outlook for selected policy areas. Speakers representing a variety of angles will address, among others, the value of international standards, the future of labelling and the outlook for regulation in areas such as biofuels, tobacco, animal products and meat."

Would be interesting to get hold of the presentations and viewpoints taken at this forum. Can conclusions on protectionist trends be drawn from such measures? Are they permissible in the WTO context? Has the Appellate Body exceeded its mandate by a spate of "judicially active" decisions? Are countries increasingly using technical barriers to become protectionist? Does this have a developed-developing country angle?

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