Removing trade barriers for UK exporters
How to overcome certain tariffs, taxes and trade restrictions if you export goods and services to non-EU countries.
Access to world markets is not always unrestricted for UK and EU exporters. To open up new markets and trading opportunities - and to keep markets open - the UK is committed to working towards the removal of trade barriers. Providing equal access to markets encourages free and fair competition which benefits suppliers and consumers. Increasing market access on fair terms, and keeping markets open ensures that the rules-based international trading system functions efficiently.
This guide is concerned with the removal of barriers to trade and investment in countries that are not members of the EU.
It explains how to overcome the barriers you may face as a UK exporter when selling your goods or services to non-EU countries. It also provides information on who you can contact about any problems you encounter, including UK and European agencies, and how you can notify and eliminate the trade barriers you encounter.
What is a trade barrier?
Trade barriers are often tariffs and taxes imposed to protect - or favour - local producers. International efforts to remove these discriminatory tariffs have been ongoing for over 50 years, coordinated initially by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, followed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and nine rounds of the international trade negotiations which govern the current WTO system.
Non-tariff barriers are increasingly significant and varied and can be more difficult to overcome. Some non-tariff barriers have sensitive cultural and social issues, or appeal to legitimate concerns, which must be considered. Other non-tariff barriers can create unjustified obstacles to fair trade and can come in many forms, such as:
- technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures
- labelling rules
- poor protection of intellectual property rights and geographical indicators
- misuse of sanitary and phytosanitary measures
- unfair subsidies
- unjustified trade defence measures - such as anti-dumping actions
- discriminatory taxation and other additional fees
- ad hoc bans and prohibitions on imports - eg those implemented on the basis of spurious claims to protect the health and safety of citizens
- non-automatic licensing procedures
- customs procedures
- quantitative restrictions
- government procurement
- restrictions on access to raw materials
- barriers to trade in services and investment
They can also be any combination of these and overcoming each requires a different approach.
Trade barriers can also be created if countries breach the rules and commitments they have legally entered into - mainly WTO or bilateral trade agreements. This may be as a result of poor interpretation, misunderstanding of agreements, or may be intentional.
Some barriers do not breach specific rules. In these instances, bilateral discussions - sometimes working jointly with the UK’s trading partners - with the countries concerned may be possible in order to find a mutually beneficial solution. However, problems sometimes arise which can only be addressed through more formal arrangements - such as consultations - or under the WTO’s dispute settlement arrangements.
The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreements require countries to notify the WTO if they are introducing certain new measures which will affect international trade. This ‘early warning’ system allows other countries to question - or challenge - proposed measures before they come into effect and assists UK efforts to engage with businesses to help keep markets open.
The WTO agreement on SPS (SPS Agreement) sets out the basic WTO rules on food safety and animal and plant health measures. Find out about the SPS Agreement on the WTO website.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) leads on the SPS Agreement in the UK.
What should I do if I come across trade barriers?
If you are facing barriers to your export trade, contact either the Market Access Unit (MAU) at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) or its partner organisation, UK Trade & Investment, which also works to keep markets open by challenging barriers to trade and investment.
The MAU and UK Trade & Investment will look for the most effective way of dealing with barriers to trade - through trade dialogue and diplomacy with the country in question, or through the European Commission. EU member states work closely with the commission on trade issues, and are involved in discussions on whether or not to include a particular trade issue in future negotiations with the country in question.
Wherever necessary, the MAU or UK Trade & Investment consult and coordinate with other government departments and agencies to tackle the problems as effectively as possible.
For information - or to report a trade barrier that you are encountering - you can contact:
International Market Access Unit
1 Victoria Street
For more information you can email the International Market Access Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org
The European Commission’s Market Access Strategy
The European Commission has implemented a renewed Market Access Strategy to tackle barriers to trade and investment. The strategy involves the creation of specialised Working Groups in Brussels and Market Access Teams on the ground in key third-country markets to deal with specific trade barriers. The teams rely on co-operation between member state representative bodies - including UK Trade & Investment - the local European Union delegation and businesses to push for the removal of the barriers in question. They establish a best practice approach based on their experience in removing trade barriers.
In some cases, barriers occur which are not linked to breaches of any specific trade rules. The commission and member states may enter into bilateral discussions about the problems with the countries concerned with the aim of finding a mutually beneficial solution. Alternatively, the UK may ask the commission to look at the prospects for challenging trade barriers through more formal procedures including through WTO dispute settlement arrangements or through dispute settlement arrangements forming part of bilateral agreements the EU has signed with certain countries.
The Market Access Database
The Market Access Database (MADB) is an interactive database containing information on cases of trade barriers worldwide that helps to identify and remove barriers. You can use the database to check the export situation by product, sector or country and to identify the possible significance of such barriers. The MADB is a way for EU governments to prioritise the manner in which such barriers should be tackled, and their urgency. The database also contains information on applied tariffs and has an Exporters’ Guide to Import Formalities in key markets.
For more information, find the European Commission’s MADB on the MADB website.
The MADB complaints register
The MADB includes a new ‘complaints register’ which serves as a single online entry point which enables companies to report the nature of a barrier they encounter directly to the commission and to work directly with the commission towards the removal of that barrier - including being able to follow the progress of a complaint more easily.
The Trade Barriers Regulation (TBR)
The TBR is a legal instrument that gives the right to EU businesses, industries or their trade associations to log a complaint with the European Commission if a third country has a trade barrier or obstacle in place which adversely affects EU exports of goods or services. Under the TBR, the commission is able to investigate complaints about violations of international trade rules and propose solutions to eliminate them.
The Market Access newsletter
The European Commission issues a monthly newsletter which reports on market access activities, shares best practice and acts as a communication platform to all relevant customers.
The Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement
‘Technical Barriers to Trade’ (TBT) exist when a country applies technical regulations, standards - including packaging, marking and labelling standards - or procedures for assessing compliance with these standards, in such a way as to impose an unnecessary restriction on international trade. The WTO and the European Union have separate procedures to help exporters experiencing obstacles to their trade with other countries.
The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement
The WTO TBT Agreement goes some way towards addressing such barriers by requiring countries to act in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. The agreement aims to ensure that regulations, standards, testing and certification procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to international trade. It provides a notification procedure that requires all WTO members to notify their proposed technical regulations. This allows members to comment on proposed measures before they are adopted. However, technical barriers remain a major impediment to international trade.
The EU and the WTO
All 27 EU member states are individual members of the WTO, but the EU negotiates and acts within the WTO as a single body. The European Commission represents the EU member states on the TBT Committee which ensures that technical regulations and standards do not constitute unnecessary barriers to trade.
It is envisaged that the commission’s work with the TBT Committee will inform the work of the Market Access Teams.
In cases of disputed trade barrier cases, the Commission can initiate action under the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Procedures. However, this is a last resort.
UK TBT Enquiry Point and notifications
The TBT Agreement requires individual countries to set up national TBT Enquiry Points. You can enquire about technical barriers to trade and register your interests in particular markets so that you can be alerted to proposed technical measures that may present market access difficulties if they are implemented. The UK TBT Enquiry Point at BIS receives details of such measures notified to the WTO, and is there to disseminate such information and to receive your comments and concerns.
UK TBT Enquiry Point
Trade Policy Unit
1 Victoria Street
You can also contact the UK TBT Enquiry Point by email at email@example.com
The commission also has a TBT Enquiry Point in Brussels:
EC TBT Enquiry Point
Enterprise and Industry Directorate General
Avenue d’Auderghem 45
You can contact the EC TBT Enquiry Line on Tel +32 2 295 1860, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Technical Standards and Regulations Directive 98/34 EC (as amended)
There is also a separate European notification system for technical regulations. This acts as an ‘early warning’ system, requiring all EU member states, the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), Switzerland and Turkey to notify the commission about its proposals to change technical regulations relating to manufactured and agricultural products, including fish products. The Directive also covers information on society services - ie any service supplied at a distance, by electronic means and at the individual request of the person receiving the services. After notifying the Commission, the country must then wait for three months before applying its new rules, allowing other countries to comment on whether they believe the new regulations will constitute a technical barrier to trade.
The UK body responsible for notifying and receiving notifications of this type is BIS. You can download details on Directive 98/34 EC procedures from the BIS website (PDF, 121K).
British Standards Institution
The British Standards Institution (BSI) is not a government body but their Technical Information group may be able to help you overcome technical barriers to trade and ensure that your products comply with the technical requirements of the target market. These requirements are often complex, and may be frequently revised. BSI provides up-to-date information on standards, regulations, inspection companies, packaging and labelling requirements and language.
You can address enquiries regarding TBT issues covered by paragraph 10.3 of the WTO TBT Agreement to:
BSI WTO Enquiry Point for Standardisation
389 Chiswick High Road
UK Trade & Investment Enquiry Line
020 7215 8000
Published: 2 August 2012
Updated: 9 October 2012
- Category changed
- First published.
Part of: Import and export controls
Related guides: Regional Trade Agreements (part 1) Regional Trade Agreements (part 2) The World Trade Organization and trading with developing countries Trade preference agreements: import and export Anti-dumping duty, 'countervailing' and other trade defence measures Exporting military goods to the United States