The new ‘Trade Barriers’ NTB portal: To boldly go where no trade has gone before

The Government has just launched a new website called Trade Barriers to help in the fight against non-tariff barriers (NTBs).   Headaches in offshore markets such as excessive red tape, slow administrative processes, arbitrary technical standards, duplicative labelling requirements or regulatory hurdles can have a draining impact on businesses’ bottom lines. But the Government’s ability to tackle these barriers depends at least in part on getting better information from exporters.

 The new NTB portal was foreshadowed in Trade Agenda 2030. It reflects the fact that a wide range of barriers, not just tariffs, increasingly affect exporters in overseas markets. NTBs on goods and services can reduce competitiveness, erode margins, reduce the scope to participate in global value chains or even make trade impossible in some cases. They risk undermining any other market access improvements that the new trade strategy might deliver.

As we have commented before, “non-tariff measures” are not in and of themselves a bad thing – helping to deliver on important goals such as human or animal health and safety, biosecurity, quality standards and consumer information.   But where such requirements are more burdensome than is necessary to meet legitimate goals, or they straight-out discriminate against imported products, that becomes a problem.

The NTB clearinghouse contains a wealth of information about what these barriers can look like.   While some NTBs are very obvious, others may be seen as “just the cost of doing business”, or “just the regulations that are in place”, particularly when it comes to services exports such as education, consultancy or logistics.  In the digital space, too, they may appear to be just part of the furniture – examples include restrictions on providing services online, or a requirement to build a data server in an export market – but may in fact be an unjustified barrier to trade. The new portal should help the relevant agencies to identify NTBs in partnership with business, hopefully meaning that the Government is in a better position to assist exporters to get the most value from overseas markets.

Relevant agencies involved in the clearinghouse include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (for services and investment NTBs), the Ministry for Primary Industries (food and primary sector NTBs), the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (manufacturing NTBs) and Education New Zealand (international education barriers).

It is welcome that the Government has recognised that business should be a key partner in this area. Exporters and others involved in trade are certainly well placed to understand the tangible impact of NTBs in overseas markets. The real challenge, of course, will be how effective the Government can be in staying engaged with, and accountable to, business, and of course in making concrete progress – in some admittedly very difficult environments, and with some very tough nuts to crack.   As a first step, however, we encourage the business community to engage with MFAT and other agencies on this new portal, as they try to boldly go beyond the ‘new frontier’ of barriers to trade.

This blog was prepared by Associate Director Stephanie Honey.

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