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USTR Issues Annual Reports on Foreign Trade Barriers, Including Technical and SPS Measures

Tuesday, April 02, 2013
By Shawn McCausland
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued April 1 its annual National Trade Estimate report, which describes significant foreign barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services, foreign direct investment and intellectual property rights protection as well as the actions being taken to address those barriers. USTR has also issued its fourth annual reports focusing specifically on technical barriers to trade, such as product standards and testing and certification requirements, and sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, which include measures used to ensure that foods and beverages are safe for consumers and to protect animals and plants from pests and diseases.

NTE. The NTE report covers the most important barriers, including those that may be consistent with international trade rules (e.g., very high tariffs), affecting U.S. exports in 57 countries, the European Union, Taiwan, Hong Kong and one regional body. In its introduction to the report USTR highlights several specific areas of concern, including “a growing trend among our trading partners to impose localization barriers to trade” and substandard foreign labor practices that “impinge on labor obligations in U.S. free trade agreements and deny foreign workers their internationally recognized labor rights.”

USTR states that the information contained in this report “represents one of the important sources upon which ITEC [Interagency Trade Enforcement Center] staff can draw as it conducts research and analysis regarding a number of countries and issues.” This suggests that ITEC, which “already has begun playing a critical role in multiple enforcement actions, including two actions regarding China and one each against Argentina, India and Indonesia,” will focus its increasing efforts on the barriers identified in the NTE report.

SPS Report. USTR states that while many SPS measures are fully justified, too often governments cloak discriminatory and protectionist trade measures in the guise of ensuring human, animal or plant safety. As a result, this report focuses on SPS measures that appear to be unscientific, unduly burdensome, discriminatory or otherwise unwarranted and create significant barriers to U.S. exports. Among these are restrictions related to export certifications, biotechnology, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, avian influenza and maximum residue limits for pesticides.

The U.S. has achieved some important successes in this area since last year, USTR notes, including removing specific barriers in El Salvador, Hong Kong, Japan and Mexico to exports of U.S. beef, working with Taiwan to implement an MRL for beef containing ractopamine, successfully petitioning the European Union to allow the use of a pathogen reduction treatment on beef, resolving barriers for U.S. rough (paddy) rice and poultry products for export to Colombia, improving the import procedures for U.S. cherries entering Korea, and gaining access for certain U.S. pears into China.

TBT Report. Governments, market participants and other entities can use standards-related measures as an effective and efficient means of achieving legitimate commercial and policy objectives, USTR states, but when standards-related measures are outdated, overly burdensome, discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate they can reduce competition, stifle innovation and create unnecessary technical barriers to trade. This report focuses on such measures in 17 countries as well as the EU.

The report notes several positive developments over the past year, including work with Costa Rica and El Salvador to eliminate an unnecessary certification requirement for meat products, an agreement with Brazil on certification requirements for meat processing facilities and meat products, and work with Vietnam to address tax stamp issues for alcohol and to eliminate the requirement for the “consularization” of documents related to mobile phones, cosmetics and alcoholic beverages entering Vietnam. The report also identifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as key opportunities to reduce technical barriers in 2013.

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