WTO Working Papers

WTO working papers usually represent research in progress. Such research may be conducted in the preparation of WTO Secretariat reports, studies or other material for WTO members. The papers are circulated for comment because the WTO considers critical review of professional research to be extremely important.


International Standards and the WTO TBT Agreement

Improving Governance for Regulatory Alignment

The WTO TBT Agreement obliges governments to use international standards as a basis for regulation, yet leaves a degree of flexibility with respect to the choice of standard, and the manner of its use. This interplay between obligation and flexibility has given rise to tension in various fora of the WTO. This paper brings together these three distinct strands of WTO work to illustrate core aspects of the international standards debate at the WTO. In our analysis we first briefly outline the nature of the discipline in the TBT Agreement itself; next, we describe where and how the discussion arises in the WTO; and, finally, explore some implications of governance of international standard setting. We propose that greater regulatory alignment could be achieved through a renewed focus on the procedures of setting international standards (the how), and greater emphasis on robust technical/scientific underpinnings of such standards (the what).


Keywords: international standards, non-tariff barriers, international cooperation, regulation, coherence, international trade, technical barriers to trade
JEL: F53: International Economics / International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy / International Agreements and Observance; International Organizations; L15: Industrial Organization / Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance / Information and Product Quality; Standardization and Compatibility; F13: International Economics / Trade / Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations; F55: International Economics / International Relations, National Security, and International Political Economy / International Institutional Arrangements; K33: Law and Economics / Other Substantive Areas of Law / International Law; L51: Industrial Organization / Regulation and Industrial Policy / Economics of Regulation
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