At the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on June 17-18, 2015, WTO Members continued to question other Members’ new and existing regulatory measures affecting the food and beverage industries.1 Members use these meetings to flag and discuss concerns about technical regulations affecting products and services that they believe hinder international trade and adversely impact competitive opportunities. The types of measures discussed range from new product standards and regulations to labeling and packaging requirements that affect a diverse range of industries.

Regulations concerning food and beverages are a key focus of these meetings. In fact, at the June 2015 meeting, 17 regulatory measures directly or indirectly affecting the food and beverage industries were discussed, representing almost half of all trade concerns that were raised at the two-day meeting.

Unnecessarily restrictive labeling and packaging regulations, product standards and requirements, ingredient regulations, and marketing and sales restrictions are the types of measures typically discussed at these TBT meetings. Members often question the evidence supporting the measure, and inquire about the possibility of adopting less restrictive alternative measures to ensure, as required by the WTO agreements, that technical regulations are not more trade restrictive than necessary. Oral statements as well as written questions to which answers are expected to be provided explain the nature and extent of the concerns over proposed or adopted measures. Some examples of measures that were discussed at the last TBT Committee meeting included:2 

  • Chile – Proposed amendment to the Food Health Regulations (Supreme Decree No. 977/96)  
  • Chinese Taipei – GMO Labeling  
  • European Union – Proposed modification of Regulation (EC)1829/2003 referring to genetically modified organisms   
  • India – Food Safety and Standards Regulation – Food labeling requirements  
  • Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Decree on the sale and marketing of energy drinks   
  • Mexico – Standard on non-alcoholic and soft drinks  
  • Peru – Act to Promote Healthy Eating Among Children and Adolescents  
  • Russian Federation – Draft on Technical Regulation of Alcohol Drinks Safety

Notifications of proposed regulatory measures affecting the food and beverage industries are made to the WTO on an almost daily basis. Monitoring such notifications and identifying potential legal avenues for challenging unnecessarily strict standards and requirements have proven to be effective in engaging with interested Members and getting such measures on the agenda of the Committee. Doing so can put diplomatic pressure on the governments proposing these measures to conduct a proper impact assessment and to examine alternative measures.

The next meeting of the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade will be held on November 4-5, 2015, and again will likely be addressing many food and beverage-related regulatory measures.