I am responding to a chapter by Sam Lowe on non-tariff barriers to trade in a report on the implications of trading on WTO terms in the event of a No Deal Brexit. I am confining myself to those technical regulations which come under the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, rather than those covered by the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. I began in Part 1 by addressing the question, raised in the chapter’s heading, as to whether regulatory divergence would give rise to technical barriers to trade. I argued that if the UK regulations diverged from the EU after Brexit, this could create challenges for manufacturers, wherever based, to overcome in producing goods that satisfied the new regulations. These differences in regulations could be considered to be barriers, or hurdles, to the UK market, but hardly to the EU-27 market.
On 6 December 2019, ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’, an ESRC-funded ‘Initiative‘ at King’s College London, published a report on the implications of trading under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules (without a Free Trade Agreement or Customs Union with the EU) in the event of a no deal Brexit. Chapter 7, by Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform, concerns non-tariff barriers to trade under WTO trading: 1
My purpose here is to address Lowe’s first question:
I confine myself to those technical regulations which come under the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, rather than those covered by the WTO Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.
- As is customary, I use ‘WTO trading’ as a shorthand for trading under WTO rules without a GATT Article 24(8) customs union or free trade area. ↩
I am pleased that Richard North has responded today to my series of posts on conformity assessment and the WTO option, which begin here. He claims, first of all, that I have made mistakes ‘relating to the activities of “notified bodies” and the continued recognition of UK bodies after a sudden withdrawal by the UK [from the EU].’
Status of UK Notified Bodies after Brexit
In part 2 of my series, in the section entitled ‘UK Notified Bodies after Brexit’, I explain why I think it ‘almost certain’ that, in the absence of an agreement on the mutual recognition of conformity assessment bodies, the UK Notified Bodies would lose their notified status. I conclude the section by stating that I will henceforth assume that to be the case for the sake of the analysis:
In my last post I traced the origins of the 1998 EU-US MRA on conformity assessment back to the Internal Market program of 1985-92 and its New Approach to product safety legislation. In accordance with the Community’s obligations under GATT, and the GATT Standards Code in particular, both the essential requirements that products had to meet, and the assessment procedures laid down to demonstrate their conformity with those requirements, were formally exactly the same for all products, whether imported or produced in Member States. The potential problem for third countries was that the third party conformity assessment bodies (CABs), whose involvement was necessary for some products, were designated by Member States and might naturally be expected to be established in the same Member State. Would it therefore be necessary for third country manufacturers to send their products to laboratories in the Community for type approval? And where the procedures required inspection of the manufacturing facilities and quality control systems, would inspectors have to come from Europe to carry them out, at considerable expense to the manufacturer?
In my last post, I examined a claim made by Nick Clegg that MRAs on conformity assessment are needed by exporters from third countries if consignments are not to be ‘impounded and checked at the EU border’:
I pointed out that China does not in fact have an MRA with the EU on conformity assessment, and explained how it is able to satisfy the EU’s product legislation requirements in the same basic way as an EU manufacturer does, either through a manufacturer’s Declaration of Conformity or, where third party certification is needed, through local test facilities, which are in either a subsidiary or subcontracting relationship with an EU-based Notified Body.
In this series of posts, to complete the picture as it were, I look at the second country named by Clegg as having an MRA with the EU and show that, while there are indeed two such EU-US MRAs in existence, they play only a marginal role in helping US manufacturers to export to the EU. The story of the first of these, the 1998 ‘Agreement on mutual recognition between the European Community and the United States of America’, is of considerable interest in its own right, as much effort was invested in attaining the agreement, and great hopes were attached to it, but in the end it is generally considered to have been a partial failure. There exist detailed accounts of the negotiations by Schaffer (2002) 1 and Deveraux (2006) 2, which give valuable insights into the differences between US and EU regulatory structures, as well as into the conduct of trade negotiations. In this post, I try to explain the events that led in May 1989 to a joint US-EU commitment to open discussions on mutual recognition of conformity assessment.
- G. Schaffer, ‘Reconciling Trade and Regulatory Goals: The prospects and limits of new approaches to transatlantic governance through Mutual Recognition and Safe Harbor Agreements’, Columbia Journal of International Law 29 (2002-3) ↩
- C. Deveraux ‘The Mutual Recognition Agreements’ in ‘Case Studies in US Trade Negotiation’ by C, Deveraux, R. Lawrence, M. Watkins (Washington DC: Institute for International Economics). Another version with references can be found here. ↩
In my previous two posts (here and here), I have been examining the concern that has been expressed, notably by Andrew Tyrie MP, about the obstacles UK manufacturers might face in exporting to the EU under the WTO option, because of the need to ensure that their products continue to conform to EU product legislation, and because of a need moreover to be able to prove that conformity. I have been confining myself to products covered by the New Approach legislation, and have focussed on the form which that legislation has taken since the introduction of the New Legislative Framework in 2008. My main conclusions so far have been that:
In my previous post, I introduced the concern that has been expressed, notably by Andrew Tyrie MP, about the obstacles UK manufacturers might face in exporting to the EU under the WTO option, because of the need to ensure that their products continue to conform to EU product legislation, and because of a need moreover to be able to prove that conformity. I am confining myself to products covered by the New Approach legislation, and have focussed on the form that legislation has taken since the introduction of the New Legislative Framework in 2008. The main points were:
As the government prepares for the Article 50 withdrawal negotiation, and (probably) a parallel negotiation on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, it becomes increasingly important to form an accurate assessment of the consequences of failing to reach a trade agreement before the two years are up (and of failing also to agree an extension to the talks). If, as some say, the results would be disastrous, then we would be in an extremely weak negotiating position. Better, it is sometimes said, to join EFTA and the EEA, despite the admitted drawbacks of such a course, than to risk the WTO option. In particular, it has been argued that an extra requirement to prove the conformity of their products to EU product safety legislation would greatly hinder UK exporters.
Before continuing to examine the possible outlines of a post-Brexit Mutual Recognition Agreement on conformity assessment for products traded with the European Union, it occurs to me that it would be appropriate, and indeed logically prior, to consider what the situation would be without any such agreement. I have seen very different estimations of the extent of the problem of Technical Barriers to Trade in the absence of any such agreement. On the one hand, in Flexcit, Richard North has warned (p. 69, referring also to barriers related to Sanitary measures for trade in animal products) that in the absence of such MRAs the UK would: