Removing trade barriers for UK exporters

What is a trade barrier?

Trade barriers are often tariffs and taxes imposed to protect - or favour - local producers. International efforts to remove these discriminatory tariffs have been ongoing for over 50 years, coordinated initially by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, followed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and nine rounds of the international trade negotiations which govern the current WTO system.

Non-tariff barriers

Non-tariff barriers are increasingly significant and varied and can be more difficult to overcome. Some non-tariff barriers have sensitive cultural and social issues, or appeal to legitimate concerns, which must be considered. Other non-tariff barriers can create unjustified obstacles to fair trade and can come in many forms, such as:

  • technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures
  • labelling rules
  • poor protection of intellectual property rights and geographical indicators
  • misuse of sanitary and phytosanitary measures
  • unfair subsidies
  • unjustified trade defence measures - such as anti-dumping actions
  • discriminatory taxation and other additional fees
  • ad hoc bans and prohibitions on imports - eg those implemented on the basis of spurious claims to protect the health and safety of citizens
  • non-automatic licensing procedures
  • customs procedures
  • quantitative restrictions
  • government procurement
  • restrictions on access to raw materials
  • barriers to trade in services and investment

They can also be any combination of these and overcoming each requires a different approach.

Trade barriers by breaching rules and commitments

Trade barriers can also be created if countries breach the rules and commitments they have legally entered into - mainly WTO or bilateral trade agreements. This may be as a result of poor interpretation, misunderstanding of agreements, or may be intentional.

Some barriers do not breach specific rules. In these instances, bilateral discussions - sometimes working jointly with the UK's trading partners - with the countries concerned may be possible in order to find a mutually beneficial solution. However, problems sometimes arise which can only be addressed through more formal arrangements - such as consultations - or under the WTO's dispute settlement arrangements.

The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreements require countries to notify the WTO if they are introducing certain new measures which will affect international trade. This 'early warning' system allows other countries to question - or challenge - proposed measures before they come into effect and assists UK efforts to engage with businesses to help keep markets open.

The WTO agreement on SPS (SPS Agreement) sets out the basic WTO rules on food safety and animal and plant health measures. Find out more about the SPS Agreement.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) leads on the SPS Agreement in the UK.