Important Implications of the WTO TFA on Landlocked Countries

December 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

WTO TFA implications for LLDCBackground

The Almaty Programme of Action (APoA): Addressing the Special Needs of Landlocked Developing Countries within a New Global Framework for Transit Transport Cooperation for Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries was adopted in 2003 as a response to the growing recognition by the international community of the special needs and challenges faced by the LLDCs. The Programme of Action emphasised five priority policy areas that landlocked and transit countries need to address to resolve the access problems of LLDCs: Transit policy and regulatory frameworks; Infrastructure development; International trade and trade facilitation; International support measures, and Implementation and review.

As one of the priority areas of the APoA, international trade and trade facilitation (streamlining customs and other border procedures) has taken on renewed focus, especially in light of the WTO Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, at which WTO members reached consensus on a Trade Facilitation Agreement, as part of the wider ‘Bali package’. As the end of the first ten years of the APoA is drawing to a close, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to hold a comprehensive Ten-Year Review Conference of the APoA in 2014.

WCO TFA and Landlocked Countries

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement sets out commitments that promote clear rules and procedures, many of which are of particular interest to LLDCs. The three most important provisions for LLDCs are Articles 11, 10,and 8. The first one deals specifically with freedom of transit, the second sets out obligations in relation to trade procedures including transit, and the third requires WTO members to cooperate with other members with which they share a common border.

Other TFA provisions of interest to the LLDCs include Articles 1-5 which addresses Publication and Transparency, including the availability of information; Article 2 which provides specific guidance on Consultations before Entry into Force; Article 6, which sets out Disciplines on Fees and Charges imposed on or in Connection with Import and Export and Article 7 which provides rules on Release and Clearance of Goods, including Trade Facilitation Measures for Authorised Operators. In the new Agreement, the obligations take three forms: Binding, Best Endeavour, or a Combination of both.

The TFA presents an opportunity for LLDCs to upgrade their systems, infrastructure and procedures as the Agreement encourages national trade facilitation improvements. Policymakers should therefore ensure that trade facilitation is included in national development plans given the cross cutting nature of trade facilitation. Using this approach, LLDCs will increase their ability to access resources tied to different funding windows, for example, assistance for general trade policy and regulations.

There are 16 Landlocked countries in Africa, which signifies the importance of the WTO TFA and its consequential impact on regional trade groupings.

The WTO TFA is an innovative agreement as it will provide capacity building to developing countries to allow them to undertake the implementation of the agreement where necessary. The Agreement addresses concerns about the implementation costs and capacity building constraints in developing and least developed countries that would be required to implement these rules. The Agreement allows each LLDC to design its TFA implementation plan and choose a timetable of compliance in accordance with its needs, capabilities and confirmed funding and technical assistance from development partners. Further, guidance is provided to WTO members on the domestic institutional arrangements that should be established to maximise the resources to be made available by donors, as well as the structures and systems that should be adhered to at the WTO Secretariat itself to ensure that the process of accessing TFA implementation support is transparent and inclusive.

It is essential to note that the Agreement specifies a strict national approach to implementation and makes no provision to resolve the issues which are closest to LLDCs interests, such as regional economic corridors, which fall outside the purview of the WTO’s multilateral disciplines. Despite this shortcoming, LLDCs will benefit from deepening their links and their involvement in fora supported by the development banks and bilateral agencies which fund these regional programmes. This will ensure that their interests are adequately reflected in the design of development plans for regional infrastructure improvements, regulatory reforms, technical assistance and capacity building.

Although the language of the TFA is legally binding in relation to some key aspects of freedom of transit, it has one important proviso. If an LLDC developing country neighbour denotes freedom of transit as a Category C obligation, it will only become justiciable and fully legally binding after the expiration of the transition date determined by that country and the delivery of suitable technical assistance by donors. Against this background, an optimal outcome for LLDCs would be that as many transit countries as possible register freedom of transit as a Category A obligation, as this would come into force immediately.

Read the full preparatory report on the Implications of the WTO ATF on Landlocked Developing Countries, available on the United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries website.

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