- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

GENEVA | Major trading powers around the world, including the United States, Japan, China and Brazil, criticized the European Union during a global forum this week for resorting to a range of measures that hinder international trade flow.

The broadside directed at the 27-member bloc came just days after world leaders at the G-20 summit in London pledged not to slap new barriers on trade. The incident demonstrates that trade tensions remain high during the current global recession.

While the EU was the main target at the World Trade Organization session this week, a new study revealed that all major economic powers-not just the EU-are imposing new restrictions.

The study by Grail Research tracked global trade barriers over the past year. It found that in the past few months technical barriers, often called non-tariff or hidden barriers, have increased sharply, even more than traditional instruments of protectionsim such as anti-dumping investigations and border tariffs.

Such nontraditional actions are a real concern because protectionist measures like them “are designed to appear nonconfrontational; this masks the real impact that some of these measures may actually have,” the report said.

“Technical barriers represent a much larger share of barriers put in place by nations, growing from 44 percent of pronouncements in the first quarter of 2008 to 66 percent in the first quarter of 2009,” according to the Grail study.

Of the 1,841 measures identified between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, the most commonly applied were technical barriers, which totaled 748. These were followed by 430 anti-dumping measures and 377 actions related to public, animal or plant health, according to Grail research

The study cited only 27 increases in tariff levels; 25 measures to counter subsidies; 15 safeguard measures; four license measures; three subsidies; and two actions involving government procurement.

The United States, China, Brazil, the EU, India, South Korea, Canada and Japan were the most active in applying new trade barriers on billions of dollars of imports, ranging from transport equipment, chemicals and manufactured articles to food commodities and beverages, the study found.

New barriers slapped on imports included 329 by the United States, 284 by China, 186 by Brazil, 152 by the EU, 120 by India, 119 by South Korea and 82 each by Canada and Japan.

During the WTO session, David Shark, the U.S. charge d´affaires, noted that some EU standards are burdensome and hinder trade.

“Both in the area of [public, animal and plant health] regulations and with respect to the standards applied to manufactured products, we continue to be concerned that some measures maintained on the ground of food safety or environmental protection may not be appropriately supported by science-based risk assessments,” Mr. Shark said.

Similarly, Chinese Ambassador Sun Zhenyu said the EU is making little progress in addressing its technical barriers to trade. He also noted the EU created substantial impediments not only to Chinese enterprises, but to companies throughout the developing world.

Mr. Sun also urged the EU “to refrain from abusing trade remedies in the future,” such as anti-dumping measures.

But Peter Balas, EU deputy director-general for trade, told WTO delegates that “there can be no mixing up” of stimulus programs to assist sectors affected by the economic crisis with tariff and non-tariff measures that restrict trade.

The EU “has introduced none of these” trade-limiting measures, Mr. Balas said.

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