The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) provides for the use of product standards - including conformity-assessment procedures - that are
- mandated by law and enforced by regulation
- voluntary or industry standards of the sort which often comprise an industry ’code of practice’
The agreement requires that use of mandatory product standards should not create an unnecessary obstacle to trade. Furthermore, mandatory standards should be used only in case of need and should take account of scientific assessments of risk.
The Agreement explicitly presumes that mandatory product standards based on internationally agreed standards do not create unnecessary barriers to trade. Where for geographical, climatic and other reasons, it is not possible for member countries to base their mandatory regulations on international regulations, they are obliged to publish these regulations in draft form to give other WTO member countries an opportunity to comment on them. The Agreement also obliges member countries to consider such comments when the standards are finalized.
The Agreement contains extensive provisions on conformity assessments be conducted on a non-discriminatory basis and that the procedures create as little burden on trade as possible.
In the creation of standards and in the assessment of conformity with standards, Governments are urged to adopt mutual recognition agreements that will minimize the need for additional inspections and assessments where standards and assessment requirements are identical or similar.
Voluntary standards may also pose problems in international trade if they differ widely from country to country. The Agreement on TBT urges countries to use their best endeavours to require national standardizing bodies to use the same principles and rules in preparing and applying voluntary standards as are laid down for mandatory standards.