COVID-19 Legal Lab

COVID-19: supply shortage and international technical standards

As China, the world’s largest industrial producer of goods, still recovers from its COVID-19 health crisis, many countries are facing lack of medical supplies to combat the disease. Diagnostic kits, ventilators, sanitizers and even masks are in shortage in almost every country.

Governments should coordinate efforts to avoid unrestrained international competition and achieve standardized international cooperation. In this context, companies may need to navigate through countries’ regulatory requirements and trade disputes.

WTO’s Member States are entitled to implement their own policies specially to ensure the protection of human health and safety, as well as of the environment. The Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement has been established to ensure that those policies do not lead to technical regulations, standards and conformity assessment procedures that are deemed discriminatory and raise excessive obstacles to trade. Furthermore, in order to facilitate trade, the WTO by means of the TBT encourages the adoption of international standards.

As the countries establish different regulatory requirements, having a good introduction in different markets may require filing for tests and audits of manufacturing facilities to obtain certification on a country by country (or region in the European Union´s case) basis, which may end up in a lengthy proceeding. Relying on internationally established standards may assist to speed up processes in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazil recently notified the TBT Committee of the INMETRO’s rules by means of Ordinance 79, of March 4, 2020, establishing exceptional procedures for assessing conformity in industrial plants located in countries affected by COVID-19. The certifying bodies should make a risk assessment based on previous audits and may issue the re-certification or decide to delay inspection, evidencing some relaxation of strict rules.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, free flow of goods that would have already been certified according to internationally recognized standard, even those related to healthcare, would certainly benefit in all the efforts to combat the shortage of essential supplies.

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