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Standards-related trade measures play a critical role in shaping the flow of global trade. Today, April 2, 2012, the Office of the United States Trade Representative published its third annual Report on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), focused on significant foreign trade barriers in the form of product standards, technical regulations, and testing, certification, and other procedures involved in determining whether products conform to standards and technical regulations. The report is intended to describe and advance U.S. efforts to identify and eliminate such barriers.
Since the last TBT report was released, the United States has significantly advanced its efforts to resolve concerns with unjustifiable barriers to trade and to prevent their emergence. Indeed, over the past year USTR secured several important additions to the arsenal of tools at its disposal to combat unnecessary trade barriers and made progress on the addition of others, including: passage of free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and entry into force of the free trade agreement with Korea that strengthen our ability to ensure that the standards-related measures these trading partners adopt are transparent and serve legitimate objectives; the creation of new cooperation initiatives on regulatory and standards issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO), APEC, U.S. free trade agreements, and other regional and bilateral fora; and progress on the negotiation of a modernized technical barriers to trade (TBT) chapter in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that will build on and strengthen current WTO TBT disciplines.
As part of the U.S. host year for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2011, USTR led several initiatives to promote the use of good regulatory practices across the Asia Pacific region and to prevent governments from creating standards-related barriers to trade in emerging technologies of critical importance to the United States – including in the areas of “smart grid,” solar technologies, and commercial green buildings. At their meeting in Honolulu in November 2011, President Obama and other APEC Leaders agreed to undertake concrete actions to improve the regulatory environment for trade and investment in the region.
The following examples illustrate the Administration’s progress over the past year in breaking down specific technical barriers to trade affecting American exports:
Promoting U.S.-Mexican Trade in Telecommunications Products
In May 2011, the United States concluded a mutual recognition agreement with Mexico that eases burdens on American companies, especially smaller manufacturers, seeking to export telecommunications products to Mexico, while maintaining high levels of safety protection and facilitating cross-border trade. Following an 18-month transition period, the agreement will permit recognized American laboratories to test telecommunications products for conformity with Mexican technical requirements, and vice versa, thus saving manufacturers the time and expense of additional product testing and lowering prices for consumers. Under the agreement, the United States and Mexico committed to undertake confidence building measures during the transition period, including joint meetings and training opportunities for government officials involved in designating and recognizing testing laboratories and reviewing test reports.
Argentina: Reducing Costs and Delays to Market
Over the past several years, U.S. industry raised concerns that Argentina was regulating the amount of phthalates in toys and other children’s products in a way that burdened exports of U.S.-designed products to that country. While Argentina’s phthalate limits applied to both imported and domestically-produced children’s products, Argentina required only imports to be tested for compliance and required all testing to be completed by a single laboratory in Argentina. U.S. industry raised concerns over these requirements and noted, in particular that the requirement for all tests to be conducted by one Argentine laboratory would lead to substantial delays, costs, and burdens in exporting those products to Argentina given the laboratory’s limited capacity. After the United States raised these concerns, Argentina issued temporary measures that provided for Argentine authorities to accredit laboratories outside that country to perform product testing and that allowed imported toys products and other children’s products to be sold in Argentina once a request for laboratory testing has been filed. In 2011, Argentina made these changes permanent, a development that will guard against unnecessary delays in sales of U.S.-designed toys and other children’s products in the Argentine market.
Exporting American Distilled Spirits to Vietnam
The United States worked with Vietnam during 2011 to ensure that American producers could continue exporting distilled spirits products to that country. Vietnam had proposed to adopt regulations that included provisions that would have banned sales of alcoholic beverages containing more than specified amounts of certain substances known as aldehydes. Aldehydes are byproducts of the distillation process and thus are a natural component of distilled spirits. If implemented, Vietnam’s aldehyde limits could have barred sales of American distilled spirits. The United States raised concerns with Vietnam regarding its proposed aldehyde limits, as well as regarding proposed certification requirements contained in the regulations, pointing out that aldehydes do not raise health, safety, or quality issues. In response, Vietnam agreed to withdraw its proposed aldehyde limits and clarified its certification procedures, thus allowing American producers to continue shipping distilled spirits that market.
Promoting U.S.-EU Trade in Organic Agricultural Products
In February 2012, the United States concluded an agreement with the European Union (EU) that will allow organic products certified in the United States or in the EU to be sold as organic in either market beginning June 1, 2012. This partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world will establish a strong foundation from which to promote organic agriculture, benefiting the growing American organic industry and supporting U.S. jobs and businesses on a global scale.