Private standards have become strong: Rita Teaotia

The so-called private standards mostly apply to food, textiles, leather and footwear products and are set higher than globally agreed standards


A file photo of commerce secretary Rita Teaotia. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
A file photo of commerce secretary Rita Teaotia. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

New Delhi: India must aspire to build its own private quality and sustainability standards to cater to the requirements of the world in an effort to safeguard its export interests from sweeping standards developed by private entities such as supermarket chains in developed countries, commerce secretary Rita Teaotia said on Friday.

Under the private food safety standards for example, which include Tesco’s Nature’s Choice and Carrefour’s Filières Qualité, a supermarket chain can mandate the sourcing of food items only if they contain lower chemical residues than is internationally accepted, thus making compliance expensive for small and medium enterprises in developing countries.

Speaking at the launch of the national platform on private sustainability standards which is a joint venture between Quality Council of India (QCI) and the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS), Teaotia said the platform should enable Indian industry to cater to the requirements of the world and also address the need for the world to meet the requirements of India.

The so-called private standards mostly apply to food, textiles, leather and footwear products and are set higher than globally agreed standards.

“What we are seeing over the last couple of decades is private standards which have become a very strong mode of governance in developed countries and that is the reality of trade,” the secretary said. “Most countries will adopt policies that will limit the inflow of goods into their markets, and the objective for this will vary from economic to national and health to security,” Teaotia said.

“The objective of the National Platform is to conduct a dialogue on a regular basis within a core group of public and private stakeholders and build a more institutionalized structure to facilitate and strengthen an informed policy dialogue on how to proactively use and maximize the sustainable development benefits and market access opportunities by PSS, while dealing with potential challenges and cost of PSS implementation, in particular for small-scale producers,” QCI and UNFSS said in a joint statement.

Harsh Vardhan Singh, a former deputy director general at the World Trade Organization (WTO) said private sustainability standards are the new power tools in the global economy. “They have become tools for enhancing scope of market as well as limiting markets,” he added.

Although not legally mandatory, they can become a market-entry hurdle if used by key market entities through their commercial leverage, especially for small- and medium-sized producers and exporters in developing countries.

While India has proposed to use WTO regulations such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards and technical barriers to trade against such private standards, there is no consensus on the issue.