Transparency of Nontariff Measures in Food and Agricultural Trade

Transparency and good regulatory practice in nontariff measures affecting food and agricultural trade were the focus of a workshop Nov. 10, 2010 in Washington, D.C.  Specific attention was given to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade. Farm Foundation, NFP, the USDA Economic Research Service and the U.S. International Trade Commission collaborated on the workshop, which drew 35 participants from the food industry, agribusinesses, government and academia.

Discussions and presentations from the workshop are summarized in a September 2011 Farm Foundation Issue Report.

Nontariff measures in food and agricultural trade have come under scrutiny in recent years. In many cases, nontariff measures protect domestic producers from import competition. New nontarriff measures are arising due to new trade opportunities and emerging science and technology, as well evolving consumer preferences regarding process attributes of internationally traded goods.

Compared to import tariffs and tariff-rate quotas, where tariff schedules are generally decided in advance and publicly available, nontariff measures are the result of regulatory procedures adopted in various trading countries. These procedures often suffer from a lack of transparency and openness, and do not reflect input from all stakeholders, particularly importers and exporters. SPS measures, as well as technical barriers to trade, can be defined in a way that leaves significant discretion to regulators. Regulatory procedures that are poorly designed or simply not followed create considerable uncertainty for companies involved in international trade.

Workshop discussions centered around five questions:
What are the transparency problems with NTMs and why are they important?
What information about NTMs do we have and what are we missing?
What can we learn from industry case experience?
How can economic studies of NTMs be used to increase transparency?
What reforms could increase openness and transparency in NTMs?


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