HAVING attended two trade shows this year, I know that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) need help when it comes to exports.
So Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies' urging for South Africa to look South for its growth prospects and reports that the department of trade and industry (DTI) is stepping up efforts to boost trade, economic integration and cooperation in Africa by Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Elizabeth Thabethe are to an extent useless.
Large companies have the means and experience to export, but that is not where South Africa’s growth potential lies – it rests with SMEs. And one of the obstacles any company seeking to export needs to overcome is that of technical barriers to trade (TBTs).
As opposed to taxes, TBTs need to be complied with before an SME even thinks about exporting.
Failing to do so will mean your product cannot enter the desired destination and will be returned to South Africa – at your SME's expense. So where can SMEs (and anyone else) get information on TBTs, and what type of information is available?
TBTs can be related to compliance with standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures.
To provide information on these, every World Trade Organisation (WTO) member country has an enquiry point. The WTO’s TBT agreement has a transparency obligation requiring countries to publish and notify the WTO of potential TBTs.
This must be done at least 60 days before adoption, so that there is time for comments and consideration of these comments. Before they come into force, a reasonable time of at least six months should be allowed for trading partners to familiarise themselves with any new standards, regulations or conformity assessment procedures.
The South African Enquiry Point downloads all these notifications, classifies them according to the International Code for Standards and presents them as a searchable online database for exporters, manufacturers, regulators and the public’s information and comment.
So the enquiry point is of great importance to SMEs, as it affords the small guy the opportunity to take on the big guns. If a comment is in line with national interests, a South African national position may be developed by the DTI in conjunction with experts.
This position is then submitted to the relevant country which, in turn, may result in bilateral talks if the concerns are not taken into consideration.
If the bilateral talks fail to reach an agreement, the DTI can register a specific trade concern in the WTO TBT Committee meetings. Lastly, if the matter is still not resolved and an unnecessary barrier to trade is created by the implementation of the standard, technical regulations or conformity assessment procedure, the WTO dispute settlement mechanism may be engaged.
If you are interested in receiving this information or if your company is looking to export in the future, you can contact the South African TBT Enquiry Point , which sits within the SABS. Emails can also be sent to email@example.com for further information or to register for the notifications.
* Geoffrey Chapman is a guest columnist and trade policy expert at the SABS.