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The Hub's trade policy expert weighs in on standards

Published on May 13, 2015

The East African Community (EAC) Secretariat is set to introduce 5,000 new standards to ease the movement of goods and services. (read the New Times story here )

We asked the Hub's trade policy expert to tell us more about why standards are important and how they relate to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The WTO is not a standards setting body per se but rather establishes the overall trade framework for countries.  The WTO recommends that standards be adopted from several international standards bodies, e.g. the Codex Alimentarius (food standards), Office of International Epizootics (livestock standards), the International Plant Protection Convention (plant standards) and the International Standards Organization (product and service standards).  The EAC has aligned numerous standards to these organizations, including the twenty two staple food standards harmonization facilitated by USAID.  To date, the EAC has developed 1,500 standards and recently announced a program to develop 5,000 more standards.  The general principle behind this is to facilitate trade and improve the quality of products and standards as well as to remove potential obstacles to trade.  

It is important to note that quick adoption of international standards may have a perverse effect in terms of increasing and facilitating trade.  For example, in East Africa the international standard for milk has been adopted.  However, most people in East Africa do not drink pasteurized and homogenized milk at this point in time.  Therefore, the adoption of an international standards may inhibit trade in dairy products.   In some cases, a gradual move to adopt international standards may be preferable.