Technical barriers to trade (TBT) have had quite a severe impact on developing countries’ participation in world trade.
This is according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Dr. Jerome Walcott, who said developing countries need to be included when standards and technical barriers to trade are being developed.
He made these comments at the launch of the Technical Barriers to Trade component of the CARIFORUM European Union 11th European Development Fund Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) programme, held at the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality’s Head Office, at Baobab Tower, Warrens, St. Michael, on Thursday.
Minister Walcott lamented that although Barbados and other CARIFORUM states signed a comprehensive EPA with the European Union in 2008, the region did not benefit as expected.
“Indeed, the EPA had been viewed as a transformative document which had the potential to drive increased market access to regional and European markets, as well as assist us on the path for sustainable development. It is therefore with some apprehension and deep concern that I must reiterate that unfortunately for us in the region, we have not been the recipients of the expected gains that had been envisaged in conceptualizing and signing on to the agreement,” he said.
He outlined that some of the reasons for this ‘shortfall’ were the impact of the 2008 financial crisis, and the region being small and vulnerable with systemic capacity constraints and limited product diversification.
We can therefore attest to the hypothesis that increased market access does not necessarily redound to increased market presence,” he observed.
The Foreign Affairs Minister argued that studies conducted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the CARTFund revealed that despite having the EPA in place, CARIFORUM states had not successfully penetrated the French Caribbean outermost regions.
“This is largely due to TBT requirements such as labelling requirements, product designation and certification,” he outlined, adding that another concern of CARIFORUM was that the agreement was only at the European Community level. It did not address requirements to trade at the state level or even the requirements maintained at the supermarket level.
“Obtaining such information and navigating the landscape was always seen as a difficult task by smaller business persons,” he pointed out.
Minister Walcott further insisted that empirical evidence had shown that the number one impediment to international trade was TBT.
He said while this was not new, it was becoming more predominant, as the average level of tariff rates were on the decline, yet it appeared that the number of technical barriers to trade had increased.
The Minister said developing countries generally required additional time, capacity building and financial resources to implement and attain the required standards of their export markets.
Noting that there is no counterpart tool to address standards implementation in the area of TBT, he said: “This highlights the need for developing countries to be at the table when standards and other technical barriers to trade are being developed.”