Mitigating Non-Tariff Measures in Agriculture: Preferential Trade Agreements and Conversations


  • May Yeung



Regulatory divergence between countries is creating barriers to market access in international agri-food trade, becoming what are known as non-tariff measures (NTMs). NTMs create friction in international trade, increasing fulfillment costs and, if sufficiently burdensome, pose a very real threat to global food security.

More countries, including Canada, are turning to preferential trade agreements (PTAs) to liberalize trade. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union was heralded as comprehensive in its coverage, reducing or eliminating tariffs in virtually all aspects of trade. Overall bilateral trade has increased since CETA came into force but not for many of Canada’s agri-food exporters. CETA’s tariff-focused agenda did little to mitigate the NTMs impeding many Canadian agri-food exports.

NTMs are not unique to Canada-EU trade. They are an increasing factor impeding world food trade as more governments are basing policy decisions on ideological or political factors rather than sound science. As a result, regulatory divergence in NTMs is widening among a greater number of countries. The agri-food trade system becomes less predictable, riskier and more volatile. For international trade, it has been described as a slow death by 1,000 regulations.

The only means to address regulatory divergence is to facilitate regulatory convergence. This is not an easy task given the number of multi-disciplinary stakeholders involved, both domestic and international. While PTAs are not well equipped to legislatively force convergence, they do provide informal and formal opportunities for building networks, strengthening relationships and opening communication channels that can foster and facilitate regulatory convergence. Every opportunity to do so, whether bilaterally, through PTAs or multilaterally, must be taken advantage of.






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