Think Piece

Private Standards—Implications for Trade, Development, and Governance

By Vera Helena Thorstensen, Reinhard Weissinger, Xinhua Sun, 
September 2015
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Private standards have proliferated over the past few decades. These standards are produced by non-governmental bodies and entities addressing concerns related to food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare, fair trade, labour conditions, and human rights issues. Sectors experiencing the emergence of private standards are agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, apparel, and fair trade, but such standards are becoming influential in other sectors as well. The increasing influence of private standards has become an increasing concern for exporters, particularly in developing countries by imposing additional requirements on them with the result of raising barriers to market access. This paper contains a number of policy recommendations aimed at addressing these challenges. The recommendations focus on the World Trade Organization (WTO), but also aim at engaging key players in a multi-stakeholder dialogue to understand the challenges of private standards and agree on basic principles for standards-setting to contribute to overcoming the current proliferation of mutually competing standards and certification systems. In the longer term, further clarification of some WTO rules and functions is required. Consideration should also be given to improving the institutional environment of standards setting, either in the form of a standing voluntary peer group to review ongoing developments and suggest approaches to deal with challenges, or in the form of a new body specially created for this purpose.

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