It is July 2012 and cattle farmers in Nicaragua are worried because Guatemala has enacted a series of laws that restrict beef trade. These so-called “non-tariff measures,” or NTMs, require that beef crossing the Guatemalan border meet stricter safety and labeling standards. The Guatemalan government argues that these measures protect the country’s consumers from health hazards. But the Nicaraguan farmers say they hurt business and unfairly shelter Guatemalan producers from competition.
This is just one example of the debates that arise in the food industry in Central America and elsewhere. While it is laudable and good policy for a government to use legitimate, non-trade related legislation to protect its citizens from certain risks, governments can also use these measures to protect domestic industry. Regardless of their intention, in an increasingly globalized, competitive world, non-tariff measures increase the cost of doing business, impact prices, affect the competitiveness of the private sector, and impact the overall welfare of the economy.