Think Piece

The Third Pillar: Behind the Scenes, WTO Committee Work Delivers

August 2015
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Discussions about the World Trade Organization (WTO) tend to revolve around negotiations or dispute settlement. These are, without a doubt, two central pillars of WTO work. This think-piece considers a less prominent one, one that relates to the regular work of established WTO Committees. It is argued that the work of WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (the “TBT Committee”) is an example of “third pillar work” that facilitates trade in the area of standards and regulations, an area of growing importance in international trade. It does this through a focus on conflict avoidance and the gradual evolution of new consensual understandings that help Members better implement the Agreement. The paper suggests that this regular work in the WTO is more effective and efficient than many observers realise and describes the case for this by looking at the Committee’s track record both in terms of specific measures discussed and normative guidance developed. It suggests how this work could be further promoted. For example, it could be fruitful to encourage dialogue where regulation is nascent, before drafting commences; also, draft regulatory texts could be better tracked after notification has been made to the WTO; and, standards, although voluntary, need to be kept from flying under the radar because they, too, affect trade.

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