There can be no international trade without access to the domestic market of other countries. It is of the highest importance for countries, traders and service suppliers to have predictable and growing access to markets of other countries for their goods and services. Rules on market access are, therefore, at the core of WTO law.
Market access for goods and services from other countries is frequently impeded or restricted in various ways. There are two main categories of barriers to market access:
tariff barriers; and
The category of tariff barriers primarily includes customs duties, i.e. tariffs. Tariff barriers are particularly relevant for trade in goods; they are of marginal importance for trade in services. The category of non-tariff barriers includes quantitative restrictions (such as quotas) and ‘other non-tariff barriers’ (such as lack of transparency of trade regulation, unfair and arbitrary application of trade regulation, customs formalities, technical barriers to trade and government procurement practices). These ‘other non-tariff barriers’ undoubtedly constitute the largest and most diverse sub-category of non-tariff barriers.
As set out in the Preamble to the WTO Agreement, WTO Members pursue the objectives of higher standards of living, full employment, growth and sustainable economic development by:
entering into reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements directed to the substantial reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade.
The substantial reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers to market access is, together with the elimination of discrimination, the key instrument of the WTO to achieve its overall objectives.