Panel Discussion ‘Standards and Market Access: The Road Ahead’

Qatar International Exhibition Centre, Doha
November 11, 2001; 1500 to 1730 hrs


CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment (CUTS-CITEE) organised a panel discussion ‘Standards and Market Access: The Road Ahead’ in Doha, Qatar on 11 November 2001. The purpose was to discuss the problems faced by developing and least developed countries while dealing with the WTO (World Trade Organisation) agreements/rules, viz. sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures and technical barriers to trade.

These agreements/rules have been identified as instruments to gain or block market access in the present multilateral trading system. Additionally these are more relevant to developing and least developed countries, as they are the ones, which often face barriers while accessing markets in the industrialised countries. Therefore, it becomes indispensable for the developing and least developed countries to understand the intrinsic issues.


Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures

Article 10.1 of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (SPS) confirms the right of WTO Members to apply measures necessary to protect human, animal and plant life. While setting the national standards, the members are expected to work in collaboration with international organisations dealing with standards. The Agreement also stipulates that in the preparation and application of sanitary and/or phyto-sanitary measures, Members shall take account of the special needs of developing countries.

  • However, developing and least developed countries are facing difficulties in getting market access in the industrialised countries on the ground that they fail to satisfy certain national standards applicable in them. The following are some of the issues identified for discussion:
  • Imposition of standards by developed countries that are either beyond the technical competence of developing and least developed countries or do not take into account the special development, financial and trade needs of developing countries or fundamental climatic or geographical factors or fundamental technological problems of developing and least developed countries.
  • Further, developing and least developed countries are invariably not in a position to convey their concerns on SPS measures initiated by the member countries as the notifications do not provide sufficient information regarding the proposed standards, especially with regard to the risk assessment methodology and other factors which may have been taken into account for determining the appropriate level of protection.
  • Arbitrary and restrictive use of SPS measures continue to remain a major obstacle to trade in agricultural products. Moreover, developing and least developed countries do not get reasonable time to adopt their products to the requirements of new legislation.
  • Though the SPS Agreement provides that countries base their SPS measures on international standards, guidelines and recommendations, the participation of developing and least developed countries in the international standardisation activities are limited and ineffective. Members shall also take into account the special needs of the developing and least developed countries.

Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) provides disciplines regarding the setting and enforcement of technical standards to reduce associated burdens on international trade. The Agreement attempts to foster the harmonisation of technical regulations by using international standards. However, these standards are being used by some of the developed countries as non-tariff barriers, which is one way of preventing competition from developing countries. The following are some of the issues with regard to the Agreement:

  • Lack of effective participation of developing and least developed countries in setting of standards by international standard setting organisations.
  • Inadequate technical cooperation by the north to upgrade conformity assessment procedures in developing and least developed countries to gain their acceptance in developed countries.
  • Developing and least developed countries often are forced to modify their standards to conform to those of the developed countries, regardless of impact and actual need for such higher standards from the developing and least developed country perspective. The standards need to be rationalised as it acts as a barrier.
  • Imposition of standards by developed countries beyond technical competence of developing and least developed countries or not taking into account their special development, financial and trade needs, fundamental climatic or geographic factors, or technological problems. Creation of positive link with transfer of technology at fair and reasonable cost.
  • There has been a systematic effort by some developed countries (EU) to bring in labeling schemes into the ambit of TBT framework.


Trade officials, representatives of inter-governmental organisations, civil society representatives, academics, media persons, donor agencies and others, who were present at Doha, Qatar at the time of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO.


Capacity Building of the Rich Countries is a Must, if the Poor have to Gain from the WTO
Doha 11 November 2001. Capacity building of consumers in the rich countries is essential to enable development of pragmatic standards, which will enable improved market access for producers in the poor countries.

This was one of the key recommendations, which emerged at a panel discussion on “Standards and Market Access” organised by the CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment (CUTS-CITEE), India and Zambia; the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan and the South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE) on the sidelines of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

Standards are a tool to gain or block market access in the present international trading system but unfortunately their sole use seems to be to block exports from developing and the least developed countries to the rich world, was the common refrain from the delegates at the meeting.

The meeting was attended by trade officials and representatives of different NGOs from Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, USA, and United Kingdom. Representatives of Consumers International, Oxfam International and IFOAM also participated.

“Market access is a vast issue and in fact the whole of the WTO is about better market access, but rules, such as Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (SPS) and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) prevent easy entry and are creating problems for the poor countries,” said Mr. Pradeep S. Mehta of CUTS in his opening remarks. “These rules need to be interpreted in a fair and equitable manner otherwise the benefits of trade liberalisation will not accrue to the poor countries, thus creating a further backlash against the multilateral trading system.”

Furthermore, certification, testing, and accreditation are major trade barriers for Southern exports and the developed world imposes its standards on developing nations, which are often inappropriate to conditions in the developing world and pose a threat to traditional knowledge, indigenous practices and local customs.

“We ought to leave it up to the discretion of the consumers in the developed world what they want to consume and should not frighten them with false alarms or create a false sense of insecurity,” said Alexander Daniel of IFOAM.

The meeting also noted that the whole issue of standards is in fact being misused to play the dirty game of power politics and the powerful ones are exploiting the powerless nations of the South. Konrad von Moltke, Adviser to the WTO Director General, said that he was surprised to see how negotiators are arguing at the meeting without having any clear goals. “Coming from an environment background, I find a huge difference between trade negotiations and environmental negotiations, which have a clear purpose. Here, people are speaking with each other, without one understanding the other,” said Moltke. “This reflects even in the issue of standards and trade.”

It is simply not possible to have a universally accepted standard or set of standards as ONE SIZE CAN’T FIT ALL. “The developing world should have autonomy to decide whether their products are safe for consumption and the whole business of certification should be made much simpler and easier,” said Henry Kimera, an Ugandan delegate.

“It was wrong to state that the dispute around standards is only between the rich and poor. For example, one of the biggest disputes—on the beef hormone case—is between the US and EU,” said Julian Edwards, Director General of Consumers International. “The dispute has its origin in the EU invoking the precautionary principle provision in the SPS Agreement, an issue which needs further study and development. This should not become another trade barrier for the South.”

“Developed nations should look at the ‘end product’ and not on the processing method if they are really sincere in implementing some standards. They ought to understand the culture of the developing world”, said Dr. Abid Suleri of SDPI in summarising the lively discussions. “Standards should not become an end but a means to achieve sustainable development.”

Instead of doing capacity building in the South, they should educate and do the capacity building of their own consumers (who are more sensible than the trade giants) that everything in South is not ‘unhygienic’ and ‘harmful’. This would lead to equitable development as well as to the broader goal of integrating developing countries under the globalisation era.

In proposing the vote of thanks, Dr. Ramesh Arya of SAWTEE stated that their network is engaged in a two-pronged programme: building capacity of testing and other institutions in South Asia, so that producers can cope with standards set in the north, and engaging in political discussions of this nature so that process of standards-setting is more fair, transparent and equitable

For more information, please contact
Ms. Purnima Purohit


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