USA Inquiry Point for the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) obliges all Parties to maintain an inquiry point that is able to answer questions from interested parties and other WTO Members regarding technical regulations, standards developed by government bodies, and conformity assessment procedures, as well as provide relevant documents. The TBT Agreement also requires that WTO Members notify the WTO of proposed technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures so interested parties can become acquainted with them and have an opportunity to submit written comments. The inquiry point and notification authority for the United States is operated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Inquiry Point:
- Distributes all WTO TBT notifications (2,580 in 2017 and 3,065 in 2018) to thousands of U.S. industry, government, and trade stakeholders via the free, web-based e-mail registration service, Notify U.S.
- Provides the full texts of the standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures (which are summarized in the notifications) to inform traders and other stakeholders of the basis and objective for the proposed measures
- Circulates U.S. and WTO Member comments on standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures; comments are forwarded to the appropriate U.S. regulatory agency for consideration or to the WTO Member national Inquiry Point as required
- Responds to technical inquiries on U.S. and international standards- and trade-related topics
- Provides information on best practices for Inquiry Point operations to the global network of national WTO TBT Inquiry Points.
The Notification Authority:
Reviews the U.S. Federal Register and U.S. state regulatory proceedings to identify activities concerning standards, technical regulations, and conformity assessment procedures which meet certain conditions in the TBT Agreement, including:
- Where there may be significant trade effects (e.g., a new labeling or packaging requirement is introduced, product requirements are introduced or changed); and
- Where the content is not in accordance with the content of relevant internationally-accepted standards and the relevant guides or recommendations issued by international standardizing bodies; or
- Where internationally-accepted standards, guides, or recommendations do not exist.
Notifies to the WTO technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures proposed at the federal level and at the state-level consistent with U.S. obligations under the TBT Agreement.
USA Inquiry Point for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):
The NAFTA was signed in 1992 by Canada, Mexico, and the United States and entered into force on January 1, 1994. It created the world’s largest free trade area, which links 454 million consumers.
NAFTA’s Standards Related Measures (SRM) Committee was created in 1994 as a forum for the resolution of standards and conformity assessment issues that impact trade among the three NAFTA partners. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is the U.S. member of the SRM committee. The committee operates under Chapter 9 of the NAFTA Agreement and adheres to the 15 articles in that chapter for guidance in harmonizing standards and conformity assessment procedures. NIST provides technical background needed to resolve potential technical barriers to trade in the area of standards and conformity assessment, and also operates the U.S. Inquiry Point for NAFTA.