By Elena Malykhina
To help meet that challenge, the WTO, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) jointly launched ePing, a new online alert system. ePing sends SMEs alert notifications when foreign trade regulations change, country-by-country, helping SMEs identify and address potential trade-related problems at an early stage.2
The ePing alert service launched and became available in November 2016 during a special meeting of WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee. TBT refers to mandatory technical regulations and voluntary standards that define the characteristics of a product – such as design, labeling, packaging and functionality – as well as specific procedures used to check whether a product is in compliance with these requirements.3
Karl Brauner, WTO Deputy Director-General, explained during the ePing launch that it can be challenging to attain up-to-date foreign trade regulation involving product requirements in export markets, especially for SMEs.4 Trade transparency makes cross-border trade more inclusive, so it’s important to have information on foreign trade regulations and standards easily accessible to SMEs and other stakeholders – such as exporters, producers and government agencies. This is the true essence of the ePing alert system, Brauner said.
The WTO Secretariat partnered with DESA and ITC to develop ePing. ITC is a joint agency of the UN and WTO, dedicated to helping SMEs become more competitive and connect to international markets for trade and investment.5
ITC hosts and maintains ePing, taking advantage of the fact that WTO member countries are required to notify other members, through the WTO Secretariat, before they adopt new foreign trade regulations. WTO receives more than 3,500 TBT and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) notifications each year proposing new measures that may affect international trade.6 An SPS measure, for example, can regulate the treatment of imported fruit to prevent the spreading of pests.
In the past, these notifications were publicly available through WTO’s SPS Information Management System (SPS IMS) and TBT Information Management System (TBT IMS) – both of which did not have an alert functionality.7 Not being able to track and react to such a high volume of information is a challenge for interested stakeholders, according to WTO. With the ePing alert system, WTO members can now receive notifications of TBT and SPS measures in real-time.
Government regulations or industry standards can impact trade in several ways, such as by defining product characteristics and establishing minimum standards for public health, explains the Center for International Development at Harvard University.8 WTO has SPS and TBT Agreements in place to address the use of standards in international trade.9 For example, the goal of the SPS Agreement is to maintain the sovereign right of any government to provide health protection, while ensuring that these rights are not being misused or create barriers to international trade. Likewise, TBT agreements are designed to ensure that the procedures used to decide whether a product conforms to standards are fair to both domestic and foreign companies.
ePing helps facilitate discussions related to foreign trade regulations among the public and private sectors. By improving access to information, the system aims to avoid potential disruptions caused by new regulations.
ePing is a publicly available subscription service and subscribers can choose daily or weekly e-mail alerts containing SPS and TBT notifications for the products, markets, regions or countries of interest to them. ePing is open to both registered and unregistered – or anonymous – users. While unregistered users are able to browse the ePing data base, only registered users can receive alerts and access the system’s more advanced features.
Using ePing, subscribers can search and share notifications, upload additional information, and participate in discussions through ePing’s Enquiry Point Management Tool, which enables domestic and international information sharing, according to the ePing user guide.10 In order to exchange information, each WTO member has to establish an Enquiry Point, which is a government agency that provides information and answers questions about SPS and TBT notifications, as well as related foreign trade regulations.
Once the stakeholders are aware of the changes that occur, they can take necessary action.11 This includes everything from implementing new regulations to informing affected industries about the upcoming modifications.
With their new ePing alert system, the WTO, DESA and the ITC expect SMEs doing business internationally to be better able to track, consult and comment on countries’ constantly evolving foreign trade regulations. The organizations aim for ePing to help SMEs adapt faster to new and proposed international trade measures.
Elena Malykhina is professional writer who has covered science, technology and business for more than 10 years. Her work has appeared in InformationWeek, Scientific American, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal and Adweek, as well as through the Associated Press.
1. "Technical Information on Technical Barriers to Trade", World Trade Organization; https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tbt_e/tbt_info_e.htm
2. "About ePing", ePing, accessed 23 November 2016; http://www.epingalert.org/en
3. Technical Barriers to Trade, European Commission; http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2013/april/tradoc_150987.pdf
4. "New Global Trade System Launched to Boost Market Access for Developing Countries", World Trade Organization; https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres16_e/pr783_e.htm
5. "About ITC", International Trade Centre, accessed 28 November 2016; http://www.intracen.org/itc/about
6. "New Global Trade System Launched to Boost Market Access for Developing Countries", World Trade Organization; https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres16_e/pr783_e.htm
7. "SPS & TBT Notification Alert System", ePing, accessed 28 November 2016; http://www.epingalert.org/en
8. "Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and Technical Barriers to Trade Summary", Center for International Development at Harvard University; http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidtrade/issues/spstbt.html
9. "Understanding The WTO: The Agreements", WTO; https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/agrm4_e.htm
10. "User Guide", ePing; http://www.epingalert.org/Help/Help.html