Non-tariff barriers spreading around the world

Canada needs to push for science-based regulations

Ottawa—The implementation of non-tariff barriers (NTBS) around the world threatens to undo the positive gains of trade liberalization, says Erin Gowriluk, President of the Canada Grains Council.

As tariffs on imported products declined globally, the number of NTBS has risen with Europe and Mexico among the latest examples, she told a workshop at the annual general meeting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

“We know for example that as tariffs decrease, the number of NTBS increases. And while tariffs can be costly, NTBS are often unpredictable and can be equivalent to a 40 per cent tariff,” she said.

Protectionist sentiment is increasing around the world and countries are using anti-trade rhetoric to justify trade-inhibiting measures. As well, countries are promoting “agri­environmental policies to protect domestic markets or export domestic values.”

Mexico and the European Union have both resorted to such policies to advance their own priorities. These actions “clearly illustrate the importance of having free-trade agreements in place that include strong dispute settlement mechanisms.”

The recent farmer protests across Europe resulted in the EU Parliament’s Ag Committee issuing recommendations to require any policies imposed on European farmers be applied to all jurisdictions who want to export to the EU, Gowriluk said.

In response, Canada should push for international support for trade policies promoting sustainable agri-food systems that are outcome and evidence based and not designed or used for protectionist purposes. The policies should also be achievable without undue stress on the bulk handling system for grain, which reliably delivers affordable food to areas of need.

“Canada should maintain a high level of ambition in ongoing and future free trade negotiations to ensure predictable, transparent, and science/risk-based trade rules that seek to minimize the occurrence of non-tariff trade barriers, including strong SPS and Biotech rules which are subject to dispute settlement,” she said.

Canada should take a leadership role at the World Trade Organization to reinforce the necessity of science-based criteria in establishing regulations and promote transparent, rules-based trade. This includes supporting greater regulatory cooperation and harmonization of standards through leadership and capacity building in international standard setting bodies like Codex Alimentarius.

Many countries that resort to NTSBs do so because they lack the resources, time, and expertise to implement a risk assessment system for incoming commodities.

The new Indo-Pacific trade office in Manila “is a positive step towards improving Canada’s ability in this space,” Gowriluk said. “New in-country resources focused on proactively addressing non-tariff barriers in a strategic, coordinated manner with industry will really help maintain and build market access for Canada’s agriculture exports and is something Canada should do more of.”

Also, Canada needs to lead by example by ensuring its domestic regulatory frameworks are trade-enabling and science-based. It is also time for Canada to be more proactive. “We’ve been in a responsive mode for too long. We are well positioned to take a leadership role internationally. We cannot underestimate the value of strong industry-to-industry relations or working with other like-minded associations.” In some cases that would be more effective than government to government dealings.

This news item was prepared for National Newswatch