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FACT SHEET: Successes in Reducing Technical Barriers to Trade to Open Markets for American Exports

Standards-related measures can be an effective and efficient means of achieving legitimate commercial and policy objectives.  But when such measures are overly burdensome, discriminatory, or otherwise inappropriate, they can hamper U.S. exports and create unwarranted technical barriers to trade.  In 2013, the Obama Administration opened markets by resolving unwarranted technical barriers to trade that applied to a wide range of safe, quality products, including manufactured goods and agricultural products. Our efforts helped the United States to export a record $1.6 trillion in agricultural and industrial products in 2013, supporting over 8.6 million U.S. jobs.     

Today the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued its fifth annual Report on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), which describes U.S efforts over the past year to identify and eliminate unwarranted standards-related measures that act as significant barriers to U.S. trade, and thus increase U.S. exports and support good, high-paying jobs here in the United States. Standards-related measures include technical specifications for products as well as testing and other procedures used to determine whether products conform to such requirements.

The following examples illustrate successes that USTR, heading a strong interagency team, has achieved over the past year in breaking down specific technical barriers to trade affecting American exports:

Promoting U.S. Trade of Organic Agricultural Products with Japan

On September 26, 2013, the United States and Japan concluded an agreement that allows U.S. and Japanese products certified as organic under either U.S. or Japanese requirements to be sold as organic in both markets beginning January 1, 2014.  This partnership with Japan, one of the United States’ largest trading partners, removes the cost and burden of obtaining additional organic certifications for U.S. producers exporting to Japan. 

Defending Market Access for U.S. Prepackaged Foods in Chile

Over the past year, the United States worked closely with Chile to resolve concerns regarding proposed Chilean regulations that could have disrupted the sale of U.S. prepackaged food products, such as crackers, breaded meats, and butter, in Chile’s market.  In response to this work, Chile revised the regulations, which became effective on December 16, 2013.   Chile’s regulations now require prepackaged foods high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to bear an icon on the front of the packaging, providing this information.  The final regulations resolved several concerns that the United States had raised including regarding the size of the icon and the use of supplemental labels or stickers to comply with the icon requirement.  This measure had potential to impact $255 million annually in prepackaged food trade to Chile.

Addressing Source Code Requirements Related to Encryption Standards for Fourth Generation of Mobile Telecommunications (4G) Technology in China

At the 2013 meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, China committed that it will not require applicants to divulge source codes or other sensitive business information in order to demonstrate compliance with China’s ZUC encryption algorithm standard for 4G devices.  China’s commitment to protect companies’ sensitive intellectual property relieves a burden on highly competitive U.S. telecommunications component exporters competing for an estimated $30 billion in market opportunities in China. 

Overcoming Barriers to Certification in Mexico

In November 2013, Mexico granted a three-year certification to high density polyethylene (HDPE) sanitation pipes manufactured in the United States, which allows U.S. industry to once again sell its pipes in a Mexican market valued at more than $100 million.  Mexico had excluded HDPE pipes from its market since 2010, because it applied an obsolete standard based on design and descriptive characteristics, rather than performance abilities.  Mexico’s adoption of the obsolete standard benefitted domestically produced PVC pipes.  As a result of sustained U.S. engagement with Mexico on the issue, Mexico re-opened its market, thus allowing U.S. manufacturers of sanitation pipes to compete on a level playing field in a valuable market.  

Ongoing Efforts

Addressing these and other specific technical barriers to trade is made possible by our continued efforts to strengthen our tools to discover, investigate, and eliminate standards-related trade barriers.  For example, in 2013, the United States continued work with its Pacific Rim trading partners to seek to conclude a TBT chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in which Parties commit to strong cross-cutting disciplines, and to seek to close several annexes covering specific sectors, aimed at remedying and preventing standards-related barriers to trade.  The negotiation of a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement– a comprehensive bilateral trade and investment agreement between the United States and the European Union (EU) – will provide an unprecedented opportunity to reduce and eliminate unjustified EU standards-related measures and significantly expand market opportunities for U.S. goods and services. 

Other examples of cooperative efforts to decrease standards-related barriers in 2013 include USTR’s work with USAID to implement the Standards Alliance, a public-private partnership that provides technical assistance to developing countries and regions to help ensure those countries’ standards-related measures do not impose unnecessary obstacles to trade and comply with other important obligations under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.  The aim of the program is to reduce costs and bureaucratic hurdles U.S. exporters face in foreign markets, and increase the competitiveness of American products, particularly in developing country markets.  Peru and Indonesia were the first Standards Alliance partners to receive significant training under the program in 2013. 

USTR also advanced several initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region in 2013 aimed at preventing technical barriers to trade though improved use of good regulatory practices – such as public consultations on proposed regulatory actions that allow trade concerns to be identified and resolved before the measure is finalized.  In APEC, USTR also joined in initiatives to prevent the creation of standards-related barriers to trade in areas that are growing drivers of U.S. growth and innovation, including energy efficiency for information and communication technologies, and commercial green building standards, development of codes and modeling.