WTO members mull rules to facilitate MSMEs’ participation in global trade
World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have mulled establishing rules to bring about greater transparency and access to information pertaining to government regulations on food and product safety in a bid to facilitate the participation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in global trade.
Although negotiations on the issue had been stalled for two years as members could not agree on the scope and level of ambition of talks to open markets for trade in industrial goods, the issue was however revisited at the weekend for negotiations.
The transparency proposal – put forward by the European Union; Hong Kong, China; Chinese, Taipei; and Singapore — calls for WTO ministers to agree by the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires this December on a series of actions.
These actions include the development of a common internet portal for sharing information, greater consultation with stakeholders and notification of final changes to domestic regulations covered in the WTO’s agreements on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT).
Indeed, supporters of the proposal said timely access to thorough information on any changes to members’ SPS and TBT regulations would lower trade costs for MSMEs while helping these smaller companies better understand market access opportunities in other countries.
In their view, lack of information disproportionately affects these companies. But opponents, which included many African members, including the African Group coordinator, some Latin American members and the United States, raised different types of concerns.
Some are concerned that the adoption of this proposal might lead to an increased administrative burden in developing countries and may impinge on governments’ right to regulate.
Others questioned whether the NAMA negotiating group was the right forum for such discussion given that agricultural products would also be covered by the proposal and some opponents doubted there was enough time to have an agreement by the December Ministerial Conference.
Also, some of the opponents considered that the proposal raised complex legal issues which would be best discussed in the SPS and TBT committees, where the experts could look at the issues in more detail.
Responding to questions and concerns on the proposal, the European Union said the text was relatively short, so if members were focused it would not be difficult to achieve agreement by December on its text.
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