Number of Downlaods: 35
Published Date: Jan 1, 2004
Rafi Khan and Sadia Haider
Developing country exporters are awakening to the reality that prices are not the only criteria for sellebility. As import tariffs decline and quota entitlements under the MFA phase out, production and trade regimes in South Asia will need to become leaner and cleaner, reflecting emerging consumer preferences and inter-governmental requirements. These are articulated in the form of a growing array of quality, social and environmental standards. In other words, only those products will have a competitive edge which are of a high quality, have no adverse health impacts embodied in them and can be safely disposed after use. Not surprisingly, these standards evoke reactions in the South, ranging from sovereign issues to concerns about non-tariff protection. There is merit in each of these viewpoints but there is also a convergence of interest as well as available recourse. Thus, industries in the south act in the national interest when their actions limit damage to the environment or institute health and safety measures for workers. Conversely, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has mechanisms for dealing with unfair trade practices.
At the end of the day it is not only expedient, but also profitable for exporters to comply with the increasingly complex demands of international clients – both in the public and private sectors. However, ‘willingness’ to comply does not translate easily into ‘ability’ to comply. This is based upon a complex mix of institutions, policies, financial means and technical capacity. Further, such capacity needs to be able to address the different dimensions associated with compliance namely, the implementation of standards, information access and dissemination, certification and accreditation. The WTO Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), and on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) contain provisions for harmonizing international standards and facilitating technical assistance to developing countries to comply with them.
Developing countries often advocate the need to become more proactive in the standards setting process. The argument is that international standards should reflect their cultural affinities and environmental tolerances. There is no quibble with this but it does track back to the issue of scientific and institutional capability. Absent such capability, developing countries will not be able to comply with international standards, much less engage with the TBT, SPS and other voluntary ISBs in setting- for lack of a better word-‘south-sensitive standards’.
This paper identifies regional capacity building approaches to enhance compliance with the TBT and SPS Agreements and company bilateral requirements pertaining to technical regulations and voluntary standards, in order to increase access for South Asian exports. Clearly there is an established need for this as regional and global economies become more closely integrated. However, the backward linkages with national capacity building imperatives are also emphasized. This recognizes both the embryonic nature of the initiatives underway in the region and the political and logistical complexities associated with regionalization. While there is undeniable merit in being forward looking, grounding this in the national context will make the regional constructions more realistic.