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JoAnne R. Overman
A. Diane Lay

U.S. Department of Commerce
Technology Administration
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Office of Standards Services
Gaithersburg, MD 20899

July 1999

William M. Daley,

Gary R. Bachula,
Acting Under Secretary for Technology

Raymond G. Kammer,


This report describes the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) activities conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), for calendar year 1998. NIST received and processed 648 notifications of proposed technical regulations; reported 33 proposed U.S. technical regulations to the WTO Secretariat; responded to 240 inquiries for notification information; participated in various bilateral and multilateral standards-related trade discussions; and responded to inquiries on the existence, source and availability of standards and standards-related information.

Key Words: conformity assessment information; notifications; proposed foreign regulations; standards information; TBT Agreement; technical assistance; WTO



Each member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is responsible for the obligations set forth in the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). As of December 31, 1998, there were 133 WTO members (see Table I). The National Center for Standards and Certification Information (NCSCI), within the Office of Standards Services, is responsible for many provisions which relate to the establishment of a national inquiry point, a standards information center, and other non-agricultural standards activities. Seventy-five WTO members had established inquiry points in 1998. This report summarizes TBT Agreement activities conducted by NCSCI during calendar year 1998.

In September, the WTO sponsored a workshop in Geneva, Switzerland, on procedures for information exchange, related to standards and technical regulations, to provide WTO TBT inquiry point representatives an opportunity to learn more about the notification procedures and inquiry point responsibilities under the TBT Agreement. A NCSCI representative presented an overview of U.S. procedures for implementing the notification requirements at the national and local governmental level. After the workshop, inquiry point representatives discussed issues of mutual interest to WTO members, including responding to inquiries, promoting the TBT Agreement within domestic borders, identifying and handling proposed technical regulations subject to notification, and the Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption, and Application of Standards (Annex 3 in the TBT Agreement). The U.S. submitted several proposals for consideration to improve the content of the notifications, dissemination of documents, and procedures for handling inquiries.



WTO members are required to notify the WTO Secretariat of all proposed government regulations and conformity assessment procedures that might significantly affect international trade.  The Secretariat, in turn, disseminates the notifications to all members.  As the official U.S. WTO/TBT inquiry point for information on standards and conformity assessment activities, NCSCI notifies the Secretariat of proposed U.S. Federal Government rules that might significantly affect trade. NCSCI also receives foreign notifications from the WTO Secretariat and disseminates them, along with supplementary information, to appropriate U.S. companies and industry groups. NCSCI responds to inquiries about foreign and U.S. notifications, provides copies of the proposed regulations, and arranges for fee-supported translations of foreign standards. Center staff also assist in developing comments on the impact on U.S. industry of proposed foreign regulations and transmits them to the foreign government concerned.

In 1998 the WTO Secretariat issued 648 notifications. Thirty-nine WTO members each reported at least one proposed regulation (see Table II.)  The Netherlands had the most notifications (89). Seventeen other signatories - Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, European Community, France, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand and the United States - each reported 10 or more proposed regulations.

The TBT notifications, all of which are available in English, include the name of the country proposing the regulation; the assigned Goods/Technical Barriers to Trade/Notification (G/TBT/Notif.) number; a brief description of the regulation; and the final date for comments (see Appendix A). Notifications are available on the WTO website (, allowing Center staff to access the information more quickly and efficiently.

In order to provide wide access to this information by U.S. manufacturers and companies, all foreign notifications are published in a variety of publications, including the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) Standards Action.  Notifications are also sent to groups and individuals to serve their information needs and to allow them to disseminate this information to others. NCSCI maintains a computerized database on all TBT notifications and a telephone WTO hotline where up-to-date notification information can be obtained.  The hotline number is (301) 975-4041.

Proposed U.S. Regulations

All proposed U.S. Government regulations (mandatory standards or conformity assessment procedures), including proposed revisions, are published in the Federal Register by the responsible Federal agency.  Center staff regularly review the Register to identify those proposed regulations that might potentially affect trade, and therefore should be notified to the WTO Secretariat. Notices of these proposals are sent directly to the WTO Secretariat via e-mail.

In 1998, thirty-three proposed U.S. regulations were reported to the WTO Secretariat covering such subjects as household appliances, children's sleepwear, rotorcraft, spark ignition engines, electric motors, and bunk beds. The originating agencies for the proposed regulations are shown below. (See Table III for listing of specific products by agency.)


AgencyNo. of Notifs.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)1
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)3
Department of Energy (DOE)2
Department of Transportation (DOT)1
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)1
Federal Communication Commission (FCC)1
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)7
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)1
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)2
National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA)5
Dept. of the Treasury (TREAS)1
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA)8


Proposed Foreign Regulations

The WTO Secretariat in 1998 issued 615 TBT notifications from countries other than the United States (see Table IV.) The foreign regulations covered a wide variety of products, including appliances, cleaners, coffins, meters, police vehicles, toys, satellites, and vulcanized rubber. A subject listing of foreign TBT notifications is contained in Appendix B.


NCSCI responded to 240 domestic and foreign written and telephone requests for TBT notification information (137 U.S., 103 foreign) in 1998. Many requestors asked for copies of more than one regulation.  In addition, a number of requestors asked for general information on the TBT Agreement consisting of a list of the latest notifications, the annual report and a brochure describing NCSCI services and programs.

In 1998, the regulations most often requested concerned toys, electrical appliances, terminal equipment, chemicals, dyeing substances, and telecommunications equipment. Inquiries are received from a variety of companies and organizations such as the American Home Appliance Manufacturers, ACTS Testing Labs, Underwriters Laboratories, Hewlett Packard and Georgia Institute of Technology. The Center also receives requests from individuals who serve as consultants or seek information for their own use. The types of requests vary as widely as the products subject to notification. Some companies are interested in specific subject or product areas (e.g., sun lamps, steel, data-processing equipment, plastics, and fuels); others are interested in specific countries or regions (e.g., the EC, Sweden, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico).

The information is used by these groups as: 1) an alert system of proposals of interest to them; 2) a mechanism to review a proposal to ascertain its trade impact; 3) an opportunity to comment on a document; and 4) a method for verifying information received from subsidiaries or agents in a foreign country.


Upon request, NCSCI will ask for the text of proposed foreign regulations which are subject to notification. WTO members are required to supply copies of the regulations through their inquiry points. Of the 201 proposed regulations requested and received by NCSCI in 1998, 87 were in languages other than English.  NCSCI coordinates a service to obtain, on request, an English translation of any proposed regulation in a foreign language.  The cost of translation is paid by the requestor; if more than one request is received for the same translation, the cost is divided equally among requestors.  The cost of a translation is determined by the number of words contained in the document and the price per 1,000 words charged by the contractor. No translations were requested in 1998.

Comment Handling

A major objective of the TBT Agreement is to allow exporters, government agencies, and other interested parties to comment on proposed foreign regulations which they believe would impede exports.  NCSCI provides the text of proposed foreign regulations upon request and encourages the submission of comments if a regulation appears to create trade barriers. Industry representatives often become aware of proposed regulations through contacts with their foreign counterparts or subsidiaries, and are able to provide informal comments directly to the relevant country.

NCSCI has procedures to transmit comments, upon request, from U.S. organizations to appropriate foreign governments and coordinates any follow-up activity. In 1998, the Center received and processed formal comments from U.S. industry on a proposed French regulation concerning asbestos (G/TBT/Notif. 98.273), a Korean regulation on packaging of foods, beverages, and consumer products (G/TBT/Notif. 98.382), and a Belgian regulation on asbestos (G/TBT/Notif. 98.244). Companies are free to comment directly to the foreign ministry responsible for the regulation and often do.

The Center also handles comments from foreign countries on proposed U.S. technical regulations reported to the WTO Secretariat. NCSCI staff forward comments to the appropriate U.S. Federal Government agency for its consideration. In 1998, comments were received from the EC on several USDA regulations: tomatoes (G/TBT/Notif. 98.32); onions (G/TBT/Notif. 98.67), and the National Organic Program (G/TBT/Notif. 98.11), and on a CPSC regulation for bunk beds (G/TBT/Notif. 98.57).

Comment Periods

To allow WTO members adequate time to receive the text of a regulation (and to have it translated, if necessary), review it, and prepare comments, the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade recommends a comment period of at least 60 days.  If the comment period is insufficient (e.g., due to late receipt of an English version or complicated technical issues), NCSCI staff will request that the issuing country extend the comment period.  In 1998 Center staff received seven requests from other WTO members requesting extensions of the comment period for proposed U.S. technical regulations. NCSCI requested an extension of the comment period for a proposed Korean regulation on packaging consumer goods (G/TBT/Notif. 98.382). The request was not granted due to the Korean legislative schedule. In general, few formal extensions of the comment periods are made. Most U.S. regulatory agencies and foreign ministries will accept comments if received within a reasonable time after the final date for comments.

The average length of the comment period in 1998 was 49 days for U.S. regulations and 36 days for foreign regulations.  The average length of the comment period allowed by U.S. agencies was as follows:

BATF78 daysFDA62 days
CPSC58 daysFHWA47 days
DOE17 daysFTC44 days
DOT51 daysNHTSA47 days
FAA68 daysTREAS51 days
FCC65 daysUSDA35 days

Comment periods for foreign regulations ranged from none at all to 70 days. The average number of days for comment period by country was:

Brazil16New Zealand38
Czech Republic41Poland63
EC54Slovak Republic61
Egypt51South Africa7
El Salvador50Spain15
Hong Kong58Trinidad & Tobago51
Jamaica39United Kingdom56



NCSCI is the focal point in the United States for standards-related information. The Center, established in 1965 and mandated by the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, provides government, industry, and the general public with information on standards, technical regulations, conformity assessment procedures, and related activities that affect trade and commerce. A brochure describing NCSCI activities is available upon request.

NCSCI maintains a collection in CD-Rom, microform, on-line, and/or hard copy, of engineering standards and specifications, test methods, regulations, certification rules, directories, reference books, and special publications. In 1998, NCSCI staff responded to requests from all over the world on the existence, source, and availability of standards and related documents. NCSCI also responds to trade-related queries regarding regulations or other requirements imposed by foreign countries that affect the export of U.S. manufactured products.

NCSCI serves as the U.S. member body to the International Organization for Standardization Information Network (ISONET) - a network of national standards information centers. ISONET is part of ISO's Committee on Information Systems and Services (INFCO) that sponsors meetings and workshops of interest to information specialists.

In September, a NCSCI staff member participated in the INFCO meeting and attended the workshop, Information Technology Tools to Serve the Standard Community. The thirty countries represented at the INFCO meeting discussed various issues dealing with committee operations, the role of INFCO within ISO, ISONET publications (manual, directory and guide,) electronic dissemination of standard documents, and document formats. A series of resolutions were prepared for presentation to the ISO Council. Workshop topics included the application of information technology tools for developing, distributing and promoting standards, national experiences in delivering standards electronically (via the Internet), and ISO's document management system. INFCO's objectives are to coordinate and harmonize the activities of ISO and its members in relation to information services, databases, marketing and sales of standards, technical regulations and related matters, including these services and products in electronic form.

NCSCI maintains an EC hotline to report on draft European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) standards which may affect trade. The recorded hotline - (301) 921-4164 - is updated weekly and provides the subject/product areas, document number, and final date for comments.


The Office of Standards Services (OSS) provides technical support on non-agricultural standards-related issues. Office functions include: a) participation in standards-related conferences; b) technical assistance to the International Trade Administration of the Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in developing proposals to enhance the TBT Agreement; and c) preparation of special reports on standards issues. Activities for 1998 included:

  1. Continued participation by office staff in meetings of the Committee on Standards Related Measures to oversee implementation of the standards obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA);
  2. Participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) standards and conformance subcommittee and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Market Access Negotiating Group;
  3. Guidance to NIST standards experts assigned to foreign countries (Brazil, the European Union (Belgium), India, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia) and support to training programs of foreign groups from various industry sectors; (Standards-in-Trade program);
  4. Coordinating the standards program of the Special American Business Internship Training program for Russia and the Newly Independent States;
  5. Numerous presentations and speeches made by technical office staff regarding standards and international activities;
  6. Liaison with the Industry Functional Advisory Committee on standards, which advises the government on standards-related policy issues;
  7. Chairing the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy, which provides guidance to Federal agencies in the area of standards policy and implementation of the Office of Management and Budget Circular A119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Standards; and
  8. Fulfilling responsibilities assigned to NIST under the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) of 1998 (Public law 014-113). The Act directs NIST to provide a leadership role in coordinating the standards and conformity assessment activities of federal, state and local government agencies, and with the private sector to meet the needs of U.S. industry in the global marketplace.


NCSCI continues to work with U.S. industry to address standards-related trade questions and concerns to assure wide distribution of relevant notifications of proposed foreign regulations which might affect trade. Requests for further information, suggestions on how the service might be made more useful, or comments on subjects covered in this report should be directed to:

National Center for Standards and Certification Information
National Institute of Standards and Technology
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 2150
Gaithersburg, MD   20899-2150
TEL: (301) 975-4040;   FAX: (301) 926-1559

For specific standards-related information from NCSCI, call (301) 975-4040, -4038, -4036 or -5155. For up-to-date information on: 1) proposed foreign regulations, call the WTO Hotline (301) 975-4041; or 2) draft CEN/CENELEC documents, call the EC Hotline (301) 921-4164.

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Date Created: 09/23/99
Last Updated: 09/23/99