By  on December 22, 2004

GENEVA — The U.S., Japan and South Korea are turning their focus in the current round of World Trade Organization talks to nontariff barriers, which they contend can pose a bigger market-access barrier than even import duties.

Nontariff barriers are imposed by both rich and developing countries, and  range from labeling requirements — such as the U.S. rule that all garments bear a tag stating where they are manufactured — to more arcane testing measures.

After the 148 WTO nations drop their textile and apparel quotas on Jan. 1, the primary remaining barriers to international trade will be tariffs and nontariff barriers. Earlier this year, the top trade negotiators of the U.S. and the European Union suggested that the WTO also work towards phasing out tariffs on industrial goods, but that goal is seen as harder to achieve than lowering nontariff barriers, since tariffs are an important revenue source for many countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in July helped craft an agenda in which WTO members agreed the objective of talks on market access for industrial goods was to reduce or eliminate tariffs and nontariff barriers.

Many of these barriers are imposed by emerging countries such as India, China and Brazil, as well as by some rich, fully developed countries.

A top U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. is seeking “significant gains” in reducing the nontariff barriers imposed by developing nations.

The U.S. official said negotiators are focusing on coming up with a breakthrough in the talks by the next WTO summit, to be held in Hong Kong in December 2005.

In the textile and apparel arena, the U.S. suggested that establishing more uniform global standards on labeling garments could help to reduce nontariff barriers. Likewise, the U.S. suggested that uniform international standards on testing garment quality would help reduce “unnecessary and burdensome costs on importers and delays [to] entry of products into market.” For instance, Mexico requires clothing be subjected to an expensive and unusual testing process to see if it needs to be dry cleaned.

In its written submissions to the group, Japan complained that the lack of enforcement of intellectual property rights has a “trade-restrictive effect” since the presence of counterfeit copies of any given brand’s goods in a market can discourage the importation and sale of legitimate goods bearing that brand name.

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