Business Guide for Developing Countries – WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

Picture2The International Trade Centre has prepared a guide to help businesses take advantage of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The agreement simplifies customs procedures, allowing businesses to become more competitive. This jargon-free guide explains the provisions with a focus on what businesses need to know to take advantage of the agreement. It will also help policy makers identify their needs for technical assistance to implement and monitor it. To download the guide – click the following link: http://www.intracen.org/wto-trade-facilitation-agreement-business-guide-for-developing-countries/.

For instance, the guide explains how the article on ‘Advance rulings’ aims to address problems with inconsistent classification of goods by customs officials and the uncertainty it creates for traders. ‘Advance rulings are binding decisions by customs…on the classification and origin of the goods in preparation for importation or exportation. Advance rulings facilitate the declaration and consequently the release and clearance process, as the classification has already been determined in the advance ruling and is binding to all customs officers for a period of time,’ the guide explains. It goes on to list in jargon-free language the obligations and the procedure imposed on customs authorities related to advance rulings.

Reducing the on-the-spot decision making authority of individual customs agents thanks to advance rulings will also reduce bribery, the guide says. Corruption continues to be a key problem for developing-country exporters, who identified it as a major constraint on exports in a recent survey conducted by ITC.

The last chapter of the guide describes how the agreement will be implemented, including the special and differential treatment provisions that developing countries may invoke. Developing countries will be able to link the implementation of the commitments to technical assistance and support from donors. WTO member states will have to explicitly apply for delays for each commitment, which will need to be approved by the WTO and the implementation schedule published.

Source: International Trade Centre

UNCTAD – LDCs face challenges in reaping benefits from Cloud Computing

Picture1There is nothing nebulous about the “cloud”, especially as it applies to developing countries, a new UNCTAD report says. For businesses and governments in poorer nations to benefit from cloud computing’s increasingly rapid and more flexible supply of digitized information – the sort of thing that enables online marketers to rapidly scale up their information systems in tune with fluctuations in demand – massive, down-to-earth data processing hardware is required. Also needed is extensive broadband infrastructure, as well as laws and regulations that encourage the investment needed to pay for advanced information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and to protect users of cloud services.

UNCTAD’s Information Economy Report 2013, subtitled The Cloud Economy and Developing Countries, was released on 3 December 2013.

Referring to cloud computing, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states in the preface to the report: “This has considerable potential for economic and social development, in particular for our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to define a bold agenda for a prosperous, sustainable and equitable future.”

The report shows that cloud computing offers the potential for enhanced efficiency. For example, cloud provisioning may enable small enterprises to outsource some of the information technology (IT) skills that they would otherwise have to provide internally. Companies can benefit from greater storage and computing capacity, as well as the expertise of cloud service providers in areas such as IT management and security.

But the study notes that options for cloud adoption in low- and middle-income countries look very different from those in more advanced countries. While free cloud services such as webmail and online social networks are already widely used in developing nations, the scope for cloud adoption in low- and middle-income economies is much smaller than it is in more advanced economies. In fact, the gap in availability of cloud-related infrastructure between developed and developing countries keeps widening. Access to affordable broadband Internet is still far from satisfactory in developing nations, especially in the least developed countries (LDCs). In addition, most low-income countries rely on mobile broadband networks that are characterized by low speed and high latency and therefore not ideal for cloud service provision.

The report recommends that governments “welcome the cloud but tread carefully”. Within the limits of their resources, infrastructure such as costly data centres must be constructed; at present, developed economies account for as much as 85 per cent of all data centres offering co-location services.

The cloud’s pros and cons

In simple terms, cloud computing enables users to access a scalable and elastic pool of data storage and computing resources, as and when required. Rather than being an amorphous phenomenon in the sky, cloud computing is anchored on the ground by the combination of the physical hardware, networks, storage, services and interfaces that are needed to deliver computing as a service.

The shift towards the cloud has been enabled by massively enhanced processing power and data storage, and higher transmission speeds. For example, some central processing units today are 4,000 times faster than their equivalents from four decades ago, and consumer broadband packages are almost 36,000 times faster than the dial-up connections used when Internet browsers were introduced in 1993.

The potential advantages of cloud computing include reduced costs for in-house equipment and IT management, enhanced elasticity of storage/processing capacity as required by demand, greater flexibility and mobility of access to data and services, immediate and cost-free upgrading of software, and enhanced reliability and security of data management and services.

But there are also potential costs or risks associated with cloud solutions. The UNCTAD report mentions costs of communications (to telecom operators/Internet service providers) and for migration and integration of new cloud services into companies’ existing business processes, reduced control over data and applications, data security and privacy concerns, risks of services being inaccessible to targeted users, and risks of “lock-in” with providers in uncompetitive cloud markets.

Policymakers should waste no time in exploring how the cloud computing trend may affect their economies and societies, UNCTAD recommends. Countries need to assess carefully how best to reap gains from this latest stage in the evolving information economy. In principle, UNCTAD sees no general case for government policy and regulation to discourage migration towards the cloud. Rather, governments should seek to create an enabling framework for firms and organizations that wish to migrate data and services to the cloud, so that they can do so easily and safely. But government policies should be based on a careful assessment of the pros and cons of cloud solutions, and should recognize the diversity of business models and services available. The report underlines that there are multiple ways of making use of cloud technology, including public, private or hybrid clouds, at national, regional and global levels. Source: UNCTAD

Experts Caution Against Rush into Trade Facilitation Agreement

Bali 2013A rather lengthy article published by Third World Network, but entirely relevant to trade practitioners and international supply chain operators who may desire a layman’s understanding of the issues and challenges presented by the WTO’s proposed agreement on ‘Trade Facilitation’. I have omitted a fair amount of the legal and technical references, so if you wish to read the full unabridged version please click here! If you are even more interested in the subject, take a look through the publications available via Google Scholar.

A group of eminent trade experts from developing countries has advised developing countries to be very cautious and not be rushed into an agreement on trade facilitation (TF) by the Bali WTO Ministerial Conference, given the current internal imbalance in the proposed agreement as well as the serious implementation challenges it poses.

“While it may be beneficial for a country to improve its trade facilitation, this should be done in a manner that suits each country, rather than through international rules which require binding obligations subject to the dispute settlement mechanism and possible sanctions when the financial and technical assistance as well as capacity-building requirements for implementing new obligations are not adequately addressed.”

This recommendation is in a report by the Geneva-based South Centre. The report, “WTO Negotiations on Trade Facilitation: Development Perspectives”, has been drawn up from discussions at two expert group meetings organised by the Centre.

Noting that an agreement on trade facilitation has been proposed as an outcome from the Bali WTO Ministerial Conference, the South Centre report said that the trade facilitation negotiations have been focused on measures and policies intended for the simplification, harmonization and standardization of border procedures.

“They do not address the priorities for increasing and facilitating trade, particularly exports by developing countries, which would include enhancing infrastructure, building productive and trade capacity, marketing networks, and enhancing inter-regional trade. Nor do they include commitments to strengthen or effectively implement the special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions in the WTO system”.

The negotiations process and content thus far indicate that such a trade facilitation agreement would lead mainly to facilitation of imports by the countries that upgrade their facilities under the proposed agreement. Expansion of exports from countries require a different type of facilitation, one involving improved supply capacity and access to developed countries’ markets.

Some developing countries, especially those with weaker export capability, have thus expressed concerns that the new obligations, especially if they are legally binding, would result in higher imports without corresponding higher exports, which could have an adverse effect on their trade balance, and which would therefore require other measures or decisions (to be taken in the Bali Ministerial) outside of the trade facilitation issue to improve export opportunities in order to be a counter-balance to this effect.

According to the report, another major concern voiced by the developing countries is that the proposed agreement is to be legally binding and subject to the WTO’s dispute settlement system. This makes it even more important that the special and differential treatment provisions for developing countries should be clear, strong and adequate enough. The negotiations have been on two components of the TF: Section I on the obligations and Section II on special and differentiated treatment (SDT), technical and financial assistance and capacity building for developing countries.

Most developing countries, and more so the poorer ones, have priorities in public spending, especially health care, education and poverty eradication. Improving trade facilitation has to compete with these other priorities and may not rank as high on the national agenda. If funds have to be diverted to meet the new trade facilitation obligations, it should not be at the expense of the other development priorities.

“Therefore, it is important that, if an agreement on trade facilitation were adopted, sufficient financing is provided to developing countries to meet their obligations, so as not to be at the expense of social development,” the report stressed.

The report goes on to highlight the main issues of concern for a large number of developing countries on the trade facilitation issue. It said that many developing countries have legitimate concerns that they would have increased net imports, adversely affecting their trade balance. While the trade facilitation agreement is presented as an initiative that reduces trade costs and boosts trade, benefits have been mainly calculated at the aggregate level.

Improvements in clearance of goods at the border will increase the inflow of goods. This increase in imports may benefit users of the imported goods, and increase the export opportunities of those countries that have the export capacity.

However, the report noted, poorer countries that do not have adequate production and export capability may not be able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by trade facilitation (in their export markets).

“There is concern that countries that are net importers may experience an increase in their imports, without a corresponding increase in their exports, thus resulting in a worsening of their trade balance.”

Many of the articles under negotiations (such as the articles on ‘authorized operators’ and ‘expedited shipments’) are biased towards bigger traders that can present a financial guarantee or proof of control over the security of their supply chains. There is also the possibility that lower import costs could adversely affect those producing for the local markets.

“The draft rules being negotiated, mainly drawn up by major developed countries, do not allow for a balanced outcome of a potential trade facilitation agreement,” the report asserted.

New rules under Section I are mandatory with very limited flexibilities that could allow for Members’ discretion in implementation. The special and differential treatment under section II has been progressively diluted during the course of the negotiations. Furthermore, while the obligations in Section I are legally binding, including for developing countries, developed countries are not accepting binding rules on their obligation to provide technical and financial assistance and capacity building to developing countries.

The trade facilitation agreement would be a binding agreement and subject to WTO dispute settlement. The negotiating text is based on mandatory language in most provisions, which includes limited and uncertain flexibilities in some parts.

Therefore, if a Member fails to fully implement the agreement it might be subject to a dispute case under the WTO DSU (Dispute Settlement Understanding) and to trade sanctions for non-compliance.

“Many of the proposed rules under negotiations are over-prescriptive and could intrude on national policy and undermine the regulatory capacities and space of WTO Member States. The negotiating text in several areas contains undefined and vague legal terminology as well as ‘necessity tests’, beyond what the present GATT articles require.”

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India Seeks Binding Trade Facilitation Agreement and Mandatory Exchange of Customs Information

TFPrinciples tfig.unece.org

India has proposed changes in the trade facilitation agreement to address the concerns of developing countries in the proposal that tops the agenda of the WTO‘s Bali ministerial scheduled for early December.

The trade facilitation agreement aims to smoothen cross-border trade by removing red tape, improving infrastructure and harmonising Customs procedures. Seen as the developed countries’ agenda, the emerging economies have sought relaxations in the legally binding clauses like clearing shipments within three hours.

“We have informed WTO that there needs to be some restriction on the scope of expediting shipment, and should be only limited to air cargo and that too very urgent ones,” a commerce department official told ET.

The country should also be allowed to restrict it to courier services, as the ones very urgent. WTO has subsequently agreed to relax the clause to make expediting shipments within six hours or as rapidly as possible instead of three hours.

Negotiators from 159 countries have held several rounds of talks since September in Geneva to forge a consensus on the multilateral agreement.

Although talks started in 2001 in Doha, lack of consensus between the developed and developing countries has lead to an impasse.

The ninth ministerial round in Bali is being seen as the last attempt to renew the global trade agreement agenda by focusing on the low hanging fruit such as trade facilitation.

India’s commerce & industry minister Anand Sharma told WTO director-general Roberto Axevedo during his Delhi visit in October that India was in support of the trade facilitation agreement, “but needs a balance in the pact”.

India along with other developing countries had raised objection to the clause, which calls for a sufficient time gap between the announcement of change in tariff to its coming into effect. This would be against India’s constitution, since most of the budget announcements related to tariffs come into effect within 24 hours. “We cannot change our constitution for WTO,” said the official, adding that India has submitted an alternative proposal to this effect, wherein, budget-related announcement should be kept out of this clause since they need to become applicable immediately. “Deliberations are still on, we need to be given flexibility,” he added.

Besides, India has sought a binding agreement on Customs cooperation under trade facilitation, which will ensure mandatory exchange of information between Customs administrations (on request) so as to prevent under-invoicing, overvaluation, tax evasion and illicit capital flows.

However, the developed countries want to agree to it only on ‘best endeavour basis’. “It is important for us, and has been on the table for over 20 year. It is only for cross checking, as information is available at both ends. However, developed countries are putting in so many conditions, confidentiality laws, secrecy. So, we are not sure in what form it will finally look like,” said the official.

India has also been pushing for a binding technical and financial assistance by the developed countries to the developing countries to accept TF agreement. Source: Economic Times (India)

Pravin Gordhan named Finance Minister of the Year

Pravin Gordhan - Finance Minister of the Year 2013 (Mail & Guardian)

Pravin Gordhan – Finance Minister of the Year 2013 (Mail & Guardian)

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (former chairperson of the World Customs Organisation) has been named the Finance Minister of the Year for 2013 in sub-Saharan Africa by the Emerging Markets website, the finance ministry said on Sunday.

The website’s citation stated that Gordhan, appointed in 2009 at the height of the economic crisis, had been praised by analysts, the ministry said in a statement.

This was because South Africa especially was more exposed than other emerging markets to dangers stemming from the eventual pullback of quantitative easing by the US’s Federal Reserve.

Emerging Markets provides news, analysis and commentary on economic policy, international economics and global financial markets, with a special focus on emerging markets.

In his acceptance speech in Washington DC, where he has been attending the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Gordhan thanked Emerging Markets for its recognition of South Africa and its economic team.

‘We are terrible managers’
“Minister Gordhan was critical of the sudden change in the narrative about emerging markets, which up until the second quarter of this year were praised for managing their economies very well,” the ministry said.

“[Emerging markets contributed] more than 50% to global economic growth and for lifting large numbers of people above the poverty line.”

Gordhan said: “Three months later, we are apparently fragile and we are terrible managers of our economies. We the emerging markets are here to stay.

“We live in an interconnected world, and more importantly, we live in an interdependent world. There is no decoupling from you, the advanced economies, and there is no decoupling from us, the emerging markets.” Source: Mail & Guardian/Sapa

World Bank – Developing Countries Bear More Trade Costs

fair-trade-virtues-of-free-trade-image2A  new database developed jointly by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the World Bank has revealed that trade costs fall disproportionately on developing countries. This is despite the fact that the international economy has integrated considerably in recent decades.

Disclosing this in a statement issued yesterday, the World Bank  said the study noted that “although developing countries were becoming more integrated into the world trading system in an absolute sense, they are starting from a higher baseline and their relative position is deteriorating because the rest of the world is moving more quickly.”

The bank explained that the new Trade Costs database uses an innovative method to estimate trade costs in agriculture and manufactured goods, opening new analytical possibilities for policymakers and researchers interested in trade integration.

“According to the research, trade costs are influenced to varying degrees by distance and transport costs, tariff and non-tariff measures, and logistics. The new data, which cover the time period 1995-2010, stress the importance of supply chains and connectivity constraints in explaining the higher costs and lower levels of trade integration observed in developing countries.

“One of the key findings triggered by the database is that two areas amenable to policy interventions—maritime transport connectivity and logistics performance—are very important determinants of bilateral trade costs, with an effect comparable to that of geographical distance.”

Ravi Ratnayake, Director of ESCAP’s Trade and Investment Division, which partnered with the World Bank on the project, said, “Technological factors are responsible for a significant share of the differences in trade costs around the world. From a policy perspective, reforms in areas such as infrastructure, core trade-related services sectors, and private sector development can thus have significant benefits for countries in terms of lowering trade costs.”

The global database shows the pattern of trade costs across countries and through time by offering a comparison of pairs of countries, and an identification of those trade costs that are high. As such, the data set can be used to examine the policy factors and “natural” factors that contribute to the levels of trade costs observed around the world. One telling trend: for upper middle income countries, it is easier to trade with high income countries than among themselves. Source: Leadership (Nigeria)

Dead Aid

Dead Aid - Dambisa MoyoFollowing my recent post – Want to Help? Shut up and listen! – I thought it appropriate to share a link to the referenced book “Dead Aid” by Zambian born economist Dambisa Moyo.

In Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo describes the state of postwar development policy in Africa today and unflinchingly confronts one of the greatest myths of our time: that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth. In the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.

In fact, poverty levels continue to escalate and growth rates have steadily declined—and millions continue to suffer. Provocatively drawing a sharp contrast between African countries that have rejected the aid route and prospered and others that have become aid-dependent and seen poverty increase, Moyo illuminates the way in which overreliance on aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.

Debunking the current model of international aid, Moyo offers a bold new road map for financing development of the world’s poorest countries that guarantees economic growth and a significant decline in poverty—without reliance on foreign aid or aid-related assistance. Dead Aid is an unsettling yet optimistic work, a powerful challenge to the assumptions and arguments that support a profoundly misguided development policy in Africa. And it is a clarion call to a new, more hopeful vision of how to address the desperate poverty that plagues millions. Source: www.dambisamoyo.com

Reform by Numbers – a reference work on Customs reform

The word ‘reform’ is a constant in the daily life of a customs officer. No customs administration among the 177 members of the World Customs Organization has not had a reform program in progress or planned. This is ultimately quite normal.A new World Bank publication “Reform by Numbers” will no doubt appeal to customs and tax reform experts and change agents.

It was written in the context of new and innovative policies for customs and tax administration reform. Eight chapters describe how measurement and various quantification techniques may be used to fight against corruption, improve cross-border celerity, boost revenue collection, and optimize the use of public resources. More than presenting ‘best practices’ and due to the association of academics and practitioners, the case studies explore the conditions under which measurement has been introduced and the effects on the administrative structure, and its relations with the political authority and the users. By analyzing the introduction of measurement to counter corruption and improve revenue collection in Cameroon, two chapters describe to which extent the professional culture has changed and what effects have been noted or not on the public accountability of fiscal administrations. Two other chapters present experiments of uses of quantification to develop risk analysis in Cameroon and Senegal.

By using mirror analysis on the one hand and data mining on the other hand, these two examples highlight the importance of automated customs clearance systems which collect daily extensive data on users, commodities flows and officials. One chapter develops the idea of measuring smuggling to improve the use of human and material resources in Algeria and nurture the questioning on the adaptation of a legal framework to the social context of populations living near borders. Finally, two examples of measurement policies, in France and in South Korea, enlighten the diversity of measurement, the specificities of developing countries and the convergences between developing and developed countries on common stakes such as trade facilitation and better use of public funds.

The “gaming effect” is well known in literature about performance measurement and contracts performance, because there is a risk of reduced performance where targets do not apply, which is detrimental to the overall reform. It is crucial to keep in mind that, by themselves, indicators “provide an incomplete and inaccurate picture” and therefore cannot wholly capture the reality on the ground. Measurement indicators must be carefully chosen to ensure that knowledge is being uncovered.

Measurement, for purposes of reform, should not be “copied and pasted” from one country to another. Due consideration must be given to the varying aims of the customs service and the specific political, social, economic, and administrative conditions in the country.

Measurement applied to experimentation is also about how donors, experts, and national administrations work together. On the one hand, national administrations in developing countries ask for technical assistance, standards, and expertise that are based on experiences of developing countries and use experts from such countries.These requests encourage the dissemination of such models. On the other hand, reforms of customs or tax administrations are represented as semi-failures in terms of the initial expected outcomes set by donors and politicians – usually the end of a reform is the time when donors and local administrations become aware of the gaps of their own representations of success.

While scientific and academic in approach, lets hope it means more than just miserable experimentation in target countries.

The book is available for free reading online – www.scribd.com or you can purchase from amazon.com.