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SPS/TBT/NTMs/NTBs – what are they and how to find more information

A guide on how to stay informed on non-tariff measures and barriers to trade.

Australia has three newly minted free trade deals with north Asia under its belt and a rapidly growing Asian middle class on its doorstep with a massive appetite for safe, fresh, high quality food and fibre.  So you would think that Australian agriculture would be struggling to keep up with a massive surge in demand.  But that isn’t quite the case.  So why not?

It’s true that Australia secured a range of tariff reductions and eliminations (although in some cases these will take time to come into effect).  Yet genuine market access, where produce can be sent into a market at a competitive price, is proving more difficult than some would suggest.  Why? The answer is non-tariff measures, or NTMs

What are non-tariff measures?

NTMs can be classified in one of two categories:

  • sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations - concerned with biosecurity and human health or
  • technical barriers to trade (TBT) - mandated consumer information, product labelling, or product specifications such as size and quality.

While NTMs are often put in place for legitimate public policy reasons, they can have a trade-distorting effect, especially when they have the effect of protecting domestic producers from international competition.  I

It is difficult to navigate NTMs, especially because new or modified measures can catch exporters by surprise.  When they do, the delays and other consequences can be large and costly.  They can also impose higher costs than are necessary to achieve a given aim.  That is when they can become non-tariff barriers to trade – or NTBs.

Governments can try to address NTBs through encouraging harmonization to international standards, capacity building in countries with less sophisticated regulatory regimes and through WTO processes and systems.

While large export oriented companies often have their own team monitoring non-tariff measures, small and medium-sized businesses have to rely on publicly available information and can get caught out, sending a cargo of goods off without realizing that new non-tariff measures have been introduced, leading to customs officials refusing to allow the goods to enter.

ePing – Staying informed

To get access to market intelligence and to get notified when non-tariff measures change, the World Trade Organisation designed a new tool called ePing that can keep you up to date on regulations in export markets around the globe. ePing allows you to track regulations by export market (country), by product and by subject (type of regulation). ePing also contains information on Australian maximum residue limits, the maximum amount of chemical residue allowed in Australian produce destined for export.

Staying informed about development in non-tariff measures can allow producers and exporters to plan ahead and to ensure that products meet the quality and safety standards of the importing country. Under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, governments have to notify changes to regulations in advance, giving importers and exporters at least 60 days to comment on new non-tariff measures and a six month heads up before the non-tariff measures enter into force.

For more information and to register for alerts go to www.epingalert.org

Scott Kompo-Harms is NFF's General Manager of Trade & Economics

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