Over the years, international trade has witnessed a decrease in tariffs in many countries. However, tariff barriers are getting increasingly replaced by non-tariff barriers such as standards – voluntary and mandatory –  and technical regulations. In addition, exporters are also having to comply with private sustainability standards (PSS) imposed by the importers. These standards, by definition, are not government mandated. They may be developed by specific companies, company consortia or even by the civil society organisations setting requirements for products and/or production processes. The objectives that these standards aim at serving may be environmental, quality oriented, safety aspects, etc. among others. Although voluntary and not legally binding, these standards are increasingly becoming mandatory, owing to the market power of certain large retailers and importers operating globally. Often, compliance with such standards becomes extremely onerous for developing country producers and exporters, having adverse implications on cost and operations.

In this context, this study ­– commissioned by Centre for WTO Studies – undertaken by BRIEF aimed at assessing the incidence and impact of private sustainability standards on India’s exports through a survey. The study focused on aspects such as the procedure of obtaining PSS certifications, scope and nature of compliance, periodicity of certification, perceived gains, multiple PSS on the same product, impact on market access, cost implications, impact on product quality and the desirability of obtaining PSS for domestic sales. It entailed the coverage of six sectors i.e. food processing, textiles and clothing, leather, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, wood products and marine (fisheries. BRIEF generated a comprehensive report covering the aforementioned aspects with respect to the chosen sectors.