Standards creating barriers to market access

Published: Financial Times, August 08, 2002
By Pradeep S Mehta

Sir, I agree with your editorial (A good deal on trade, July 29) that the “fast track” authority for US President George W. Bush would help in taking forward the Doha round of world trade talks. This is the driver of world trade talks, unfortunately.

However, Washington needs to rethink on some of the steps that it had taken in recent times, particularly those relating to agricultural subsidies and the backtracking on the implementation agenda agreed upon as a package during Doha discussions.

Such steps result in uncertainties, which may slow the momentum of negotiations.

The two leading trading blocks (the US and the European Union) should assert that the quality of market openness is more important than opening of markets per se. It is true that for many agricultural products developed countries have reduced tariff barriers. But the crux of the matter is whether developing countries’ products are getting better market access or not.

The answer is somewhat in the negative, given the proliferation of non-tariff barriers, particularly with regard to health and consumer safety. For many countries, standards – and the uncertainties they create – are getting in the way of producers getting better market access and the right price for their produce.

As a social activist from a large developing country and being closely associated with the international consumer movement and trade, I can say that there is negligible information exchange between developed-country consumers and developing-country producers on issues of standards. One solution could be to institute a process of dialogue process between these groups so the information asymmetry (and resultant market uncertainties) could be reduced significantly.

Copyright © pradeepsmehta. All rights reserved.