Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements and Technical Barriers to Trade: An African Perspective
Regional trade agreements (RTAs) present opportunities for controlling technical barriers to trade (TBTs). Using key principles and provisions of the WTO Agreement on TBT as a yardstick for analysis, this paper examines whether and how eight major regional integration agreements within the African region address TBT issues. It finds that TBT are not an important issue in Sub-Saharan African RTAs. Only one of the 8 agreements surveyed refers explicitly to the WTO TBT Agreement. Existing provisions for eliminating TBT-related barriers or harmonising legitimate technical regulations are formulated mostly in broad and nonprescriptive terms. The paper describes concrete steps that parties to these RTAs have taken in order to reduce technical barriers. Such initiatives have been taken at the national level but can also involve collaboration between RTAs. Country case studies show that weak TBT infrastructure remains a handicap for businesses and governments and that, with the exception of the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC), investment by regional economic communities (RECs) in institutional infrastructure related to TBT has not been significant. The paper describes in some detail relevant activities taking place within SADC which could serve as a best-practice model for other African regional agreements. Serious capacity constraints stand in the way of African countries taking on the challenge of reducing TBT barriers. Also, low local levels of living standards favour weak product standard, and this acts as a barrier to upgrading product standards for export markets. Amending TBT coverage in African RTAs, a review of performance of enquiry points and assistance with infrastructure modernisation are among a set of measures recommended for achieving better TBT policy alignment among countries of the region.
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