Record number of concerns about technical barriers to trade raised via online platform

WTO members used a written procedure to raise a record number of trade concerns at a meeting of the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). In light of the COVID-19 situation, the Committee held its 13-14 May meeting through a written procedure, allowing WTO members to exchange views on 72 specific trade concerns (STCs) via a new online platform, eAgenda.


The eAgenda platform allows members to register STCs and to exchange views on these concerns. Members shared over 270 statements covering environmental standards and regulations regarding energy efficiency, e-waste and chemicals among other topics.

New trade concerns

WTO members raised 21 new trade concerns through the written procedure.  A full list of the 72 concerns raised overall is available here.

New trade concerns covered topics ranging from the dairy sector to tequila production, from energy efficiency to toys and smartphones.

On agriculture, a decision to prohibit a specific fungicide widely used in banana and soy production was challenged. In the dairy sector, a proposed prohibition on the use of animal rennet in the manufacture of milk products was questioned because of potential effects on trade in cheese. On phone production, there was an exchange on a requirement to affix mandatory labels to mobile device packages indicating the cellular network supported by the mobile device (2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G).

Regarding energy efficiency, the implementation of various labelling schemes was also a point of contention. Requirements for alcohol production were also discussed. The COVID-19, pandemic was cited  ​​by various members in regards to the need for more flexible timeframes to implement or adapt to new trade measures.

A brief summary of new STCs is provided below:

Food and agriculture

New Zealand — Consumer information standards

Canada recognized New Zealand’s efforts to give consumers accurate information on country of origin for certain single-ingredient, minimally processed foods but raised a concern about the costs associated with compliance (for meat and cured pork). Canada suggested that New Zealand follow relevant CODEX standards.

New Zealand said the regulations will allow for multiple relevant countries to be indicated as the  country of origin on the label if it is difficult to trace the supply chain of a product. Due to COVID-19, the regulations will be ready by June 2021, instead of June 2020.

India — Food Safety and Standards Act

The United States expressed concern about the incomplete notification of India’s new directive on animal feed, and its insufficient transition period, which would have a significant impact on trade in feed and possibly on meat and dairy products. On cattle feed, the United States questioned why India would not allow import of many commonly used feed ingredients and vitamins.

While six months was provided to all stakeholders to comply, India replied that it would consider an extension given the current COVID-19 pandemic. The standard on cattle feed (IS 2052:2009) was reviewed periodically — most recently in 2019 — and India welcomed input from the United States on additional feed ingredients.

India — New veterinary certificate for dairy products

A proposed prohibition on the use of animal rennet in the manufacture of dairy products by India was challenged by the European Union.  Since most EU cheese is made with animal rennet, this could potentially block entry to the Indian market.

India argued that the prohibition on animal rennet in the manufacture of cheese was not new, and had existed since 2011. During a recent revision of its milk and milk products standards, this requirement was retained.

European Union — Non-renewal of the approval of the active substance mancozeb

The European Union’s non-renewal of the approval of the fungicide mancozeb was raised as an issue by Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the United States, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, Indonesia and Nicaragua. This fungicide is used in the cultivation of more than 70 fruit and vegetable crops, such as bananas and soy as well as seeds and nuts.

With the EU already banning chlorothalonil, several members said this leaves banana-producing countries devoid of phytosanitary tools for disease control, generating significant economic losses. These members urged the EU to adopt an internationally accepted risk assessment approach based on appropriate data and scientific studies, and to postpone this measure given the current challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EU said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that mancozeb did not meet the approval criteria as outlined in Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 due to reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption. The EU said there will most likely be separate future action on maximum residue levels (MRLs) for mancozeb.

European Union — Botanical species containing hydroxyanthracene derivatives

Mexico argued that the European Union’s proposed regulation was more trade restrictive than necessary since it imposed an absolute ban on the use of aloe vera and its extracts in food and beverage formulas.  This would negatively affect Mexican industry, which produces a variety of products with aloe vera. Mexico asked the EU to reconsider its proposal and align with CODEX standards.

The EU said that the proposed draft measure is based on the scientific advice of the EFSA and extensive consultations with member states and interested parties. All the comments received will be analysed and considered for possible amendments to the draft.

Energy efficiency

Colombia — Technical regulation for marketing in Colombia of certain products

Colombia’s new regulation on energy labelling for air conditioners was questioned by Korea and the United States. Korea voiced concerns about cost and administrative burden and asked about the effective date of the regulation. The US noted Colombia’s reference to an Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) international standard, and urged Colombia to expand the acceptance of international standards for other covered products.

In response, Colombia explained the objective was to provide clear energy efficiency performance ranges for air conditioners. Due to challenges associated with COVID-19, Colombia was unable to confirm when the regulatory amendment will be issued.

Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Armenia — Requirements for energy efficiency of energy-related devices

New energy efficiency requirements adopted by four members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) for various devices such as televisions and vacuum cleaners were raised as a concern by Korea. It said the timing of entry into force was premature given the pace of technological development, and Korea requested that a single common language be used for labels within the EAEU.

Speaking on behalf of the four members, the Russian Federation said the technical regulation had been drafted in close cooperation with the business community, including multinationals from Korea. In any event, Korea’s requests would be conveyed to the Eurasian Economic Commission for proper consideration.

European Union — Energy labelling of electronic displays

China said the implementation timeframe for a new EU regulation on energy efficiency labelling of electronic displays was creating unnecessary trade barriers. The obligation for suppliers to provide new labels by November 2020, four months in advance of entry into force of the regulation, was a source of concern since the corresponding test standards and methods were not yet available.

The EU said that an information campaign is foreseen to explain to consumers the transition to the new labels. Nevertheless, considering the COVID-19 emergency and its impact on supply chains in many countries, the EU was exploring how to provide additional flexibility, potentially giving manufacturers up to four extra months to comply.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — Minimum energy performance, labelling and testing requirements for air conditioners

China noted that its air conditioners were found to be not conforming with Saudi Arabia’s energy efficiency requirements in random checks conducted by Saudi Arabian customs. China asked that testing data be provided to its manufacturers so that they could correct these problems, and that more time be given to renew certificates.

Saudi Arabia said it followed international practice, and that it was possible to obtain detailed data on the testing which included the reasons for non-conformity. The Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) allowed for renewal of energy efficiency certificates three months prior to expiry, which was enough time in Saudi Arabia’s view.

IT and electrical equipment

Vietnam — Products and goods with unsafe capability

The United States took issue with the short timeframe for the implementation of Viet Nam’s proposed regulations for IT products, bearing in mind the lack of qualified laboratories in Viet Nam to test some of the products. It was suggested that Viet Nam continue recognizing the validity of existing certificates until their expiration and provide an adequate transition period.

Viet Nam said that the notification of the draft circular was made with a 60-day comment period, and that it did not receive any comments from WTO members. More than six months had been provided for the transition period. Viet Nam clarified that it would designate and recognize the competent testing laboratories prior to entry into force.

European Union — Revision of the directive on batteries

Japan asked that a planned revision to EU rules on batteries (including for electric cars) be carried out transparently and not create unnecessary trade barriers. Parallel work in the United Nations World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP29) ought to be considered. Japan also asked the European Union to provide a timely TBT notification, and an adequate transition period.

The EU explained the aim was to improve environmental performance and sustainability across the whole life cycle of batteries, including responsible sourcing of raw materials for battery manufacturing, and their associated carbon footprint. The EU will notify the proposal to the TBT Committee for comments and provide sufficient time for economic operators to adapt.

Colombia — Mobile device packaging

The United States quizzed Colombia about its plan to require mandatory labels on mobile device packaging, indicating the cellular network supported by the device (2G, 3G, 4G, or 5G), which seemed overly burdensome and without benefit for consumers. The US asked for a delay of at least six months to allow producers, suppliers and retailers to adapt.

Colombia said it was still reviewing and analysing the comments submitted by the US. Colombia said some decisions of its authorities were delayed due to the COVID-19 emergency and that information will be transmitted as soon as possible.

India — Expansion of national certification to plugs, socket outlets and power cords

China took issue with India’s expansion of mandatory certification for plugs, socket outlets and related products. China asked India to notify the new requirement and for clarification on the applicable conformity assessment procedures. Citing the difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, China said industry would need more time to adapt.

India replied that the measure was prepared after consultations with stakeholders to protect public safety and the environment and to prevent deceptive practices. India said that due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation date was extended by six months.

Chemicals and waste

Bangladesh — Hazardous electronic waste management rules

Canada, the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union were concerned about the lack of clarity of Bangladesh’s proposed regulation on the management of electronic waste. In their view, the classification of certain substances, such as nickel, as hazardous,  did not seem well supported, and the policy could block trade in valuable products, including critical medical devices and equipment.

Bangladesh said that members’ concerns were being reviewed by the competent authorities and that replies would be provided in due course. In the meantime, the comment period for the notification had been extended

India — Draft chemicals management and safety rules

The United States questioned India’s classification of certain chemicals as “priority substances” without public consultation, which could disrupt trade. The US called on India to use a risk-based approach and clarify the relationship of the draft rules with India’s existing regulations. India was requested to accept foreign conformity assessment procedures and provide an adequate transition period.

India said that the draft rules were not yet finalized and were circulated among industry associations as part of an extensive stakeholder consultation exercise. It added that the draft would be notified once finalized and there would be a reasonable time period for comments.

India — Quality control orders for chemical and petrochemical substances

Canada, the European Union and Chinese Taipei asked India to explain the rationale for making mandatory a range of Indian standards on chemicals and petrochemicals, and why international standards were not used. This could undermine market access, they said. They urged India to allow testing and inspection bodies in other members to participate in the planned conformity assessment process.

India said that this regulation aims to protect health, safety and the environment and to prevent deceptive practices, and that the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is the certifying body for the purpose of conformity assessment.


Australia — Maturation requirements for imported alcohol

Brazil questioned Australia’s requirement for some alcoholic beverages to be matured in wood for a minimum of two years, and the impact on trade in cachaça. Maturation did not relate to any quality standard or sanitary requirement for cachaça. Brazil asked about implications on labelling for cachaça, and the timeframes for the publication of the final regulation.

Australia was reviewing how to enable imports of unmatured spirits, such as cachaça, without breaching the maturation requirement for whisky, brandy or rum. Australia committed to advance these amendments as quickly as possible and that a draft for public comment will be published when available.

Russian Federation — Regulation on safety of alcoholic beverages

Mexico asked Russia to confirm whether a new technical regulation introduced by the Eurasian Economic Community will apply to tequila. Mexico also requested updated information on the date of entry into force as well as any information regarding the implementation process.

Russia said that the technical regulation covers all alcohol products, including tequila. It enters into force on 9 January 2021 with a transition period until 2024. During the transition period certificates of conformity issued before entry into force will be valid until 2024.

Myanmar — Regulation on importation of alcoholic beverages

Mexico said Myanmar’s 12-year ageing requirement could block tequila imports, since no class of tequila complies with such a requirement. Mexico asked for clarification on the product scope of the regulation and reminded Myanmar to notify it to the WTO.


United States — Guidance on federal conformity assessment activities

The European Union questioned why proposed revisions to US guidance on conformity assessment for government agencies removed illustrative references to international conformity assessment standards, such as those of ISO and IEC. The EU was also concerned that the guidance did not sufficiently encourage mutual recognition of conformity assessment results at state level.

In response, the United States said this was neither a technical regulation nor a conformity assessment procedure and was therefore inappropriately listed as a specific trade concern in the TBT Committee. The US said it would address substantive comments in the final guidance, and that this would be notified to the WTO.

India — Toys quality control order

The United States, the European Union and Canada said India’s proposed new measures on toy quality control would compound existing difficulties their toy manufacturers face in accessing the Indian market. Issues with licences, factory audits, fees and bank guarantees were discussed. They urged India to allow toy manufacturers to use a supplier’s declaration of conformity instead of toy factory audits by BIS, which would be particularly challenging given the current COVID-19 travel restrictions.

India explained the purpose was to more strictly monitor toy quality to keep children safe. Toys covered by the same Indian standard would come under the same licence, and BIS would soon issue grouping guidelines that specify a minimum number of varieties of toys to be tested.

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