Implementing the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

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It is anticipated that most Customs and Border Authorities have at least one common item on their national capacity building agenda’s for 2014 – the Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Many countries, being members of the WCO, would have already acceded to a level of commitment to the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). This requires of them to introduce, at an agreed time, the principles of WCO standards and policies according to the level of their sovereign commitment.

The General Annex to the RKC is the bare minimum a country would be expected to implement in order to for it to be considered compliant with the RKC. From a trade perspective, this also indicates the extent to which your country’s leaders have committed itself towards ‘global integration’.

What the recent Trade Facilitation Agreement (ATF) in Bali does is bind member states to a compendium of requirements necessary for the enactment of certain conditions and obligations as set out in the various articles contained in the agreement. Countries should also note that certain of the ATF provisions include items under the Specific Annexes to the RKC. For a quick reference to see how the RKC and other WCO standards and conventions stack up to the ATF, refer to the WTO Trade Facilitation Toolkit by clicking the hyperlink.

In addition to this, the ATF also makes provision for ‘special and differential treatment’ in regard to developing and least developed countries (Refer to Section II to the WTO ATF).

In essence this allows those countries and opportunity of identifying their (capacity building) needs and setting themselves realistic targets for implementation and compliance to the ATF. To this end 3 Categories are identified for national states to consider in the event they are not at present in a position to accede to some or all of the ATF conditions.

The WCO has also prepared various tools which aim at assisting its members in assessing their national position in regard to the ATF. Members are likewise encouraged to regularly visit the WCO website for updates in this regard.

The following working papers are available from the WCO website and, for ease of access, are listed below together with their hyperlink to the WCO site –

Other related Trade Facilitation documentation can be found at the following link – WTO Trade Facilitation Negotiations

Text of the WTO Free Trade Agreement

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Visiting the WCO’s Strategic Plan

Reality Check

The ongoing global financial and economic crisis affects governments,  organisations and citizens in different ways. It would seem that no individual or any organisation has the proverbial ‘silver bullet’ to normalise the situation either. Today, probably most Customs and Border agencies are undergoing ‘modernisation’ or some form of restructuring. Modernisation in itself implies automation or digitization of information changing the lives of the average customs (border) official as well as the expectations and predictability of service to traders and trade intermediaries around the world. 9/11 forever changed the role of Customs and for most of governments, border regulatory authorities as well. Changes in Customs have since been focussed on alignment to policy, standards and guidelines as advocated by the WCO.

WCO Startegic PlanNational adoption of these remains the foremost critical step in establishing a country’s ability to ‘connect’ with the world. A national administration should seek inclusivity of its trading community lest its modernisation be regarded as self-serving. Simultaneously, regional economic communities also seek radical change, albeit on a regionalisation level. Pressures on national (sovereign) nations develop given high-level political commitment to regionalisation, often without taking into account their respective countries’ state of readiness. This creates a false sense of commitment which results in regional failures. Behind such regional initiatives are normally a host of sponsors, purportedly with the right experts and solutions to rectify the ‘barriers’ which prevent a national state from integrating with its neighbours and global partners. Sound familiar? If so, it wouldn’t do national representatives any harm to refresh themselves with the under mentioned WCO tools and validate this in relation to the direction which their organisation is headed. These form part of the WCO’s Customs’ in the 21st Century Agenda. It is also recommended reading for the various regional economic communities (RECs) – here I refer to the African continent – who are not always au fait or fully appraised on the ‘readiness’ landscape of the member states they represent.

The Economic Competitiveness Package (ECP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) is currently a matter of high priority at the World Customs Organization (WCO). Economic competitiveness starts with trade facilitation and Customs administrations undeniably play an important role in this respect. Indeed, facilitating trade is one of the WCO’s key objectives and the Organization has contributed, through its tools and instruments as well as through technical assistance, to increasing the economic competitiveness and growth of Members.

The Revenue Package (RP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) was developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in response to WCO Members’ concerns in regard to falling revenue returns in the light of the global financial crisis and declining duty rates.

Significant progress has been made since the adoption of the WCO Capacity Building Strategy in 2003. However, new and emerging key strategic drivers impact on international trade and the roles and responsibilities of Customs administrations. This requires that all our capacity building efforts remain responsive and needs-driven to ensure beneficiary Customs administrations can obtain the support they need to pursue their reform and modernization. This Organisational Development Package (ODP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) outlines the basic approach of the WCO towards organizational development. It provides a simple and accessible overview of the texts, tools and instruments that relate to this topic. It refers and offers access to these resources but does not purport to capture all knowledge and practices within this extensive area.

The Compliance and Enforcement Package (CEP) (Click the hyperlink for more information) has been developed in order to assist Members to address the high-risk areas for Customs enforcement. The Customs in the 21st Century Strategy calls on Customs administrations to implement modern working methods and techniques. In this context, Customs should be equipped with the necessary tools that allow it to effectively manage supply chain risks and enforce laws and regulations in cases of non-compliance. In discharging this mandate, the WCO, in close co-operation with Members, has created an extensive library of instruments, tools, guidance materials and operational co-ordination activities to support Customs compliance and enforcement actions. These tools new form part of the CEP.