WTO trade concerns hit record in 2020

The WTO broke a record for new trade concerns (57) in the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), despite the disruptions stemming from the pandemic.

The objective of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) is that technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures are not discriminatory or create unnecessary obstacles to trade.

At the same time, the Agreement recognizes the right of WTO Members to apply measures to achieve legitimate regulatory objectives, such as the protection of human health and safety or the protection of the environment.

The TBT Agreement strongly recommends that Members base their measures on international standards as a means of facilitating trade.

Furthermore, the transparency provisions of the Agreement are intended to create a predictable business environment.

About a third of WTO members, 57 members, participated in discussions on trade concerns in 2020. This is an increase from the 45 who participated in 2019.

The number of trade concerns raised by WTO members in the TBT Committee has increased by 26% per year, on average.

Discussing these concerns often allows members to reduce trade tensions before a measure takes effect and helps avoid escalation to a formal dispute.


Concerns are often raised in response to notifications, ranging from simple requests for clarification to concerns about possible inconsistencies with the TBT Agreement.


In particular, the protection of health or human safety was at the center of almost half (45%) of all the regulations notified in 2020.

More than 100 OTC notifications concerned measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

About two-thirds of notifications submitted to the WTO in 2020 allowed, on average, 56 days for members to comment.

This period is an important opportunity for members to exchange views on pending regulations, giving them the opportunity to consult to clarify issues that may result from the proposed regulation.


Almost half of WTO members regularly notify the WTO of new regulations or changes to old ones.

In total, WTO members submitted more than 3,000 notifications on product requirements for traded goods to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) in 2020.

Notifications are a form of advance notice. They provide an opportunity for WTO members to comment on the draft measures before they enter into force.

These are generally health or safety requirements or measures taken to protect the environment.

Over 3,000 notifications have been submitted annually to the TBT Committee over the past three years, demonstrating the commitment of WTO members to increase transparency on trade measures affecting industrial and agricultural products.