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Breaking barriers: taking action on trade barriers

Australia's free trade agreements (FTAs) are creating many opportunities for our exporters through new or improved market access for Australian goods and services, reduced regulatory barriers and greater mobility for business travel.

FTAs are a major pathway to improving trade access, however, Australian exporters may continue to encounter a range of measures that restrict or exclude them from some overseas markets.

Many of these measures – such as import processing fees, labelling and packaging requirements, health and safety certification, and in-country testing – are in place to protect a community's health and wellbeing. That said, some countries may impose rules and requirements that make it difficult, costly or impossible to do business.

When rules and requirements are not transparent, are overly restrictive, or arbitrarily applied, they can become barriers to trade. These restrictions fall outside traditional tariffs and are known as non-tariff barriers.

What is a non-tariff barrier?

Non-tariff barriers can be any kind of red tape or trade rules that unjustifiably restrict the flow of goods and services. Non-tariff barriers can occur at the border, where products or services enter an overseas market, or behind the border, where products or services are traded within overseas markets.

Increasingly, non-tariff barriers influence who trades what and where, presenting new challenges for governments and businesses alike.

By working with our trading partners, some non-tariff barriers can be addressed quickly, while others are more complex, require greater advocacy, and may take considerable time to resolve.

A government and business partnership to remove unjustified trade restrictions

Non-tariff trade restrictions are a growing issue for many Australian exporters. By some estimates they cost as much as three times the cost of formal trade barriers, such as tariffs.

In December 2018, the Australian Government launched a Non-Tariff Barrier Action Plan. The Action Plan was developed in consultation with industry and business, and aims to strengthen the partnership between the government and exporters to tackle non-tariff barriers.

The Action Plan outlines several objectives including: to make it easier for business to report trade barriers; build the capability of frontline expertise to service Australian exporters; and increase transparency of the government's actions to address non‑tariff barriers.

The action the government is taking complements other efforts to strengthen trading rules, open markets, and facilitate global commerce through international bodies like the World Trade Organization.

To successfully address non-tariff barriers, a joined up approach across multiple government departments and agencies is critical.

Here to help

There are a range of government agencies and departments working together to help Australian businesses find solutions to improve or remove non-tariff trade barriers. The trade barriers coordination team is available to assist with your queries.

To find out more go to, or email DFAT's trade barriers coordination team at, or call +61 (0)2 6178 4300.

For general business support visit or call 13 28 46.

Case study: Advocacy success for meat exporters to the Middle East

Improved access for Australian red meat exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is just one example of successful advocacy by the Australian Government, in partnership with industry, to overcome a non-tariff barrier.

The UAE is one of Australia's largest red meat markets in the Middle East. The UAE's short shelf life requirements for red meat effectively limited exports to airfreight only, which has a higher cost compared to sea freight. When combined with long voyage times from Australia, by the time the meat arrived in the UAE for sale, little shelf life remained.

This regulation limited the competitiveness of Australian products and cost Australian exporters up to $60 million per year, according to Australian industry sources.

The Australian Government, in partnership with the meat export industry, successfully advocated the scientific merits of vacuum-packing chilled red meat with the UAE, extending the accepted shelf life of vacuum-packed beef from 90 days to 120 days.

An extension to the shelf life requirements increases the competitiveness of Australian meat exports and provides greater opportunities for sale. For example, exporters can reduce the overall cost of their meat by sending bulk shipments via sea instead of smaller shipments via air. This can lower commodity prices and support greater competitiveness of Australian meat products in the market.

The Australian Government is continuing to promote extended shelf life for vacuum‑packed chilled meat with other countries in the Middle East.

The Australian Government's Agricultural Counsellor network, with 22 agricultural specialists posted in regions like the Middle East, help tackle technical requirements like this and expand Australia's agriculture exports.


Last Updated: 24 May 2019
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