A technical barrier to trade exists when a country applies technical regulations, standards - including packaging, marking and labelling standards - or procedures for assessing compliance with these standards, in such a way as to impose an unnecessary restriction on international trade. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU) have separate procedures to help exporters experiencing obstacles to their trade with other countries.
The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement
The WTO TBT Agreement goes some way towards addressing such barriers by requiring countries to act in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. The agreement aims to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade. It provides a notification procedure that requires all WTO members to notify their proposed technical regulations. This allows members to comment on proposed measures before they are adopted. However, technical barriers remain a major impediment to international trade.
The EU and the WTO
All 28 EU member states are individual members of the WTO, but the EU negotiates and acts within the WTO as a single body. The European Commission represents the EU member states on the TBT Committee which ensures that technical regulations and standards do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade.
In cases of disputed trade barrier cases, the Commission can initiate action under the WTO's Dispute Settlement Procedures. However, this is a last resort.
UK TBT Enquiry Point and notifications
The TBT Agreement requires individual countries to set up national TBT Enquiry Points. You can enquire about technical barriers to trade and register your interests in particular markets so that you can be alerted to proposed technical measures that may present market access difficulties if they are implemented. The UK TBT Enquiry Point at the Department for International Trade (DIT) receives details of such measures notified to the WTO, and is there to disseminate such information and to receive your comments and concerns.
UK TBT Enquiry Point
3 Whitehall Place
You can also contact the UK TBT Enquiry Point by email at TBTUK_EP@trade.gov.uk.
Technical Standards and Regulations Directive 2015/1535 EC (as amended)
There is also a separate European notification system for technical regulations. This acts as an 'early warning' system, requiring all EU member states, the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), Switzerland and Turkey to notify the commission about its proposals to change technical regulations relating to manufactured and agricultural products, including fish products. The Directive also covers information on society services - ie any service supplied at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of the person receiving the services. After notifying the Commission, the country must then wait for three months before applying its new rules, allowing other countries to comment on whether they believe the new regulations will constitute a technical barrier to trade.
British Standards Institution (BSI)
BSI is not a government body but their Technical Information group may be able to help you overcome technical barriers to trade and ensure that your products comply with the technical requirements of the target market. These requirements are often complex, and may be frequently revised. BSI provides up-to-date information on standards, regulations, inspection companies, packaging and labelling requirements and language.
You can address enquiries regarding TBT issues covered by paragraph 10.3 of the WTO TBT Agreement to:
BSI WTO Enquiry Point for Standardisation
389 Chiswick High Road
You can contact the BSI WTO Enquiry Line on Tel 0345 086 9001 or reach them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.