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Legality of Standards

​Adherence to standards is voluntary, unless they are a requirement of legislation or regulation, or are incorporated as part of a formal contract. Standards are increasingly being used as compliance tools, whereby the compliance to the legislation, regulation, or contract is demonstrated by verification or self-declaration against the relevant standards.

The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement takes a close interest in the impacts of standards and the way they are implemented. The TBT Agreement provides interpretation of the boundaries that standards have to comply with. This agreement, which has been signed by the international standards bodies as well as WTO's member states, makes a clear distinction between technical regulations and standards. The distinction made by the WTO is:

"The difference between a standard and a technical regulation lies in compliance. While conformity with standards is voluntary, technical regulations are by nature mandatory. They have different implications for international trade. If an imported product does not fulfil the requirements of a technical regulation, it will not be allowed to be put on sale. In case of standards, non-complying imported products will be allowed on the market, but then their market share may be affected if consumers prefer products that meet local standards such as quality or colour standards for textiles and clothing".

In terms of the development of renewable energy standards, an understanding of the basic WTO requirements by the technical committees would be beneficial. By having this understanding, the standards-makers will be aware of the requirements to ensure that universal standards, when used, are a prerequisite for international trading. Cases have already been brought to the WTO on protectionism around renewable energy (Dispute DS412 Canada – Certain Measures Affecting the Renewable Energy Generation Sector. See also WTO DS426.s). While the WTO concern is not about the standards, others, such as Brazilian bioenergy producers, believe that the EC Renewable Energy Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources​) and the voluntary schemes and standards established to meet the requirements of the directive, may result in barriers to trade.

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