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International Debate on the Safety and Quality of Products

According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this month its members started discussions on how to develop coherent ways to test, measure and demonstrate the safety and quality of products. This “quality infrastructure” helps build trust in exports, enhances competitiveness and thereby facilitates trade. The talks concentrate on the 4 main pillars of “quality infrastructure”: accreditation, metrology, standards and conformity assessment procedures. As regards standards in regulations, these will include policy considerations, existing guidelines and best practices. Members highlighted significant benefits to using international standards as a regulatory tool. Of paramount importance are the procedures to improve the transparency of WTO members’ measures and to facilitate access to adopted measures. While this may seem to be unimportant for ecommerce, it is in fact extremely important for any cross-border online trade. Governments can impose safety and quality rules which could close off whole markets to ecommerce (eg requiring specific flame-resistant cloth be used in children’s clothes, etc). The WTO, therefore, plays an import role to help ensure that barriers are avoided.

WTO is also continuing with its discussions on cross-border ecommerce trade, which we have reported upon previously. One aspect is customs duties on electronic transmissions cross-frontier. SA is very keen to stop the global “moratorium” on this, thereby allowing countries to impose customs duties. The DTI claims this will open up a new rich revenue stream for Treasury, however, a new international report by the OECD throws some doubt on this claim. EFSA believes that the new duty would fall disproportionately on the consumer and on SMEs.

For those interested in global trends the WTO has published its World Trade Report 2019: The Future of Services Trade (

At the same time, UNCTAD has released its Least Developed Countries Report 2019 

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Alastair Tempest

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