Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union have raised concerns at the WTO about the increasing number of quality control orders (QCOs) being issued by India across sectors such as toys, tyres, auto parts, chemicals and petrochemical products, many of which seem “protectionist in nature’’, a Geneva-based trade official said.

Earlier this week, at a meeting of the WTO Committee on Trade in Goods in Geneva, the four members noted that that some of India’s QCOs may not be compliant with WTO norms as they appeared to be tools to protect domestic industry.

“India, however, is confident that its QCO measures do not flout WTO norms as they are not discriminatory and are equally applicable on domestically produced goods sold locally as on imports,” another source tracking the matter said.

At the meeting, India’s representative assured members that the concerns expressed by them were being reviewed by the government in the context of a paper submitted by Canada in the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee. An official response would be given in the due course, he said.

India also informed that it had held bilateral discussions with the EU on the matter on the  sidelines of the Committee on TBT.

“It is ironical that members like the EU, Japan and the UK are complaining about India’s handful of QCOs when they have so many more stringent standards in place that have to be mandatorily met by all those selling in their markets,” the source said.

Product standards

In fact, India has drawn inspiration from the developed world to come up with product standards in important sectors to improve the quality of products being manufactured domestically and to also prevent sub-standard imports, he added.

Coverage of a product under a QCO, mandates  compliance of a specified Indian Standard (IS), obtaining of a valid licence (from the Bureau of Indian Standard) and bearing of the standard mark on the covered products before supplying to the Indian market.

Foreign sellers may find it problematic to adhere to the QCO mandate as they would need to seek approval for their items in India but it is also not easy for Indian manufacturers to subscribe to high quality standards. For some items, including toys, the government had to extend the date for implementing the QCO as the domestic industry that time was not ready to embrace the new standards.

The Department of Policy for Investments and Internal Trade has issued about 20 QCOs in the last three years for products such as toys, leather and rubber footwear, safety glass and sewing machines. It is more that what was issued between 2000 and 2019, a source said.