While tariffs have continuously declined as a result of multilateral and regional trade liberalization, Non-tariff measures (NTMs) have become a major impediment to international trade and market access.

These NTMs are often designed to meet certain specific policy objectives of a country such as technical standards requirements. But in the process, the trade and development performance of other countries are adversely affected as a result of such barriers.

It has also been proven difficult to systematically analyse NTMs due to a lack of a common definition and taxonomy, inadequate data on NTMs and an agreed methodology for quantifying such barriers.So far, data on NTMs have always been collected and identified by different institutions for different proposes in different ways using different sources of information.

In July 2006, The Secretary-General of UNCTAD established a Group of Eminent Persons on NTMs (GNTM) to address the urging need for developing a unique definition and classification of NTMs. The Multi-Agency Support Team (MAST) comprising FAO, IMF, OECD, UNIDO, WTO, World Bank, USAD, USITC and ITC, has been tasked to provide the necessary technical support to the Group.

The dialogue to achieve a jointly agreed upon classification took place in 2007. After extensive discussions, the Support Team proposed a new classification on NTMs that is based on UNCTAD’s NTMs classification of the early 1990. Salient features of the new NTM classification are: (1) it expanded the category of Technical Measures by clearly distinguishing SPS and TBT measures and their sub-categories; (2) it introduced hitherto unclassified measures such as measures related to government procurement, intellectual property rights, subsidies, etc; and (3) introduction of a new concept of "Procedural Obstacles", whereby rather than the measures themselves, but their implementation poses as a barrier to trade.

NTM classification   Classification of Procedural Obstacles

Pilot project on the collection and quantification of NTMs

The Pilot Project on Collection and Quantification of NTMs is a joint effort by UNCTAD and ITC within the overall project framework that aims at increasing transparency on world trade and in particular NTMs. In the long run, a global approach to collect, classify and store country-level data on NTMs shall be established.

In 2008, the data collection process starts on several pilot countries, including Brazil, Chile, India Philippines, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia and Uganda.

Data collection will include

  • Data from official sources of both the pilot countries and their main partner countries and
  • Business sectors’ complains reported by traders based on their perception

The perception of exporters will be then matched against the official reported data, allowing the analysis of NTMs with respect to both quantification and qualification. It also enables to identify indications for a possible lack of domestic infrastructure and awareness.

The Trade Barrier Reporter

The Trade Barrier Reporter is one tool to collect and identify the trade barriers reported by the business sector. It allows identifying the most prevalent trade barriers faced by exporters and importers. The perception of traders is in focus, reflecting the subjective evaluations of firms. This approach will provide a real-world picture of what exporters and importers currently perceive as the most important impediments to the products they trade.


Initial funding has come from the Global Issues and Sustainable Development Division of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (GISD/SDC) and ITC’s Global Trust Fund.