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)

Durban “Dig-out” port – a flagship PPP initiative?

Artistic impression – Durban Dig-out Port

Freight and Trade Weekly (FTW) reports that a team has been assembled to sort out the funding for the new dig-out port on the old Durban International Airport site (FTW November 9, 2012) – a project that represents a potential major shot in the arm for the economy of the region and the country. The consortium is composed of the well-known Dutch port consultants, MTBS; the highly respected international engineering firm, Arup; and Durban-based lawyers,Van Velden Pike Incorporated, in association with Nichols Attorneys.

This consortium is to act as transaction advisers to Transnet, on what is, according to government, likely to be SA’s flagship public/private sector partnership initiative.That will be part of the team’s studies, according to Andrew Pike, partner in Van Velden Pike. However, the study, although started, is still very much in pre-feasibility stage, and there is obviously still no firm comment to be made on what direction the public/private element will take, he told FTW.

Further abroad, AECOM has announced (Oct 2012) that Transnet has awarded the company a US$3.4-million contract to initiate the design of the Durban Dig Out Port in South Africa. AECOM’s has experience delivering creative design services for major ports around the world, such as the New Port Project in Doha, Qatar. As part of the contract, AECOM will provide concept and pre-feasibility design services for the new port and container terminals, including all associated infrastructure relating to its operation. A critical aspect of the design will be ensuring the sustainability of the port throughout the construction phase as well as all of the operational phases of its development.

The Mercury reports that work on the multi-billion rand project is expected to commence in July 2016, with the first phase of the project completed by 2019. Development of the project is to be over a 30-year period. The construction phase will provide an estimated 64,000 jobs, while 25,000 permanent jobs are envisaged in the functioning port.

The scale and details of the project are staggering. The port will involve liquid fuel, automotive and container cargoes. The siting of the entrance to the port will require the relocation of the Shell and BO Refinery’s (Sapref) single buoy mooring. The construction of the southern breakwater alone will absorb 16% of the total cost and will require special sources of quarry stone. Environmental concerns are being taken very seriously. For example R85-million has been budgeted to relocate some 2,000 chameleons which inhabit a part of the northern section of the airport site.

Of particular significance is that without the dig-out port, Durban will stagnate as a port of call and experience decline. Already Cape Town does not have the capacity or berths deep enough to handle the new generation of 18,000 TEU ships that are due soon. Durban’s proximity to the Witwatersrand makes it the logical and preferred destination for container shipping. Studies have shown that the old airport site is ideal for the construction of a new harbour designed specifically to manage the size and volume of container shipping. Durban’s geographical location in the southern hemisphere is particularly advantageous as regards intercontinental shipments from the east to South America and beyond to the north Atlantic. Sources: FTW, AECOM, and The Mercury.