EAC – Business Leaders demand shift to New Trade Rules

eabc-flagsThe East African Business Council, the umbrella body of the region’s private sector, has asked governments in the five-member East African Community (EAC) to expedite implementations of the new WTO trade facilitation agreement.

Council chairperson, Felix Mosha, made the appeal on Tuesday during a breakfast meeting with trade facilitation institutions and the business community in Arusha, Tanzania.

WTO members in December 2013 adopted the Agreement on Trade Facilitation during the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia after 10 years of negotiations. The Bali deal aims at boosting poor countries’ ability to trade and allow them more flexibility in food security. The agreed text is currently under review by legal experts and will come into force once two thirds of the 159-member World Trade Organisation accept it.

Trade and Industry minister, Francois Kanimba, told The New Times that implementation of the agreement cannot be done immediately because WTO is yet to give member countries the requisite legal implementation modalities.

“By July, we’ll have got it, so that the process can start,” Kanimba said. He added that Rwanda, after a recent self-assessment on how it stands on the implementation road map, realised most requirements had been attained.

Steps made in facilitating cross-border trade such as the ongoing EAC one-stop border posts, and the 2012 launch of the electronic single window system, were some of the steps taken by Rwanda.

Benefits

“Everything, by nature of trade facilitation is always good. The trade balance for Rwanda is negative and if the Bali agreement helps us improve, it will help us address our development challenges,” the minister said.

“Rwandan traders will also benefit as trade facilitation is about easing things for them. For example, improvements in communication will ease access to vital information they need in different member countries and this will enable many to conduct trade more efficiently.”

With the agreement, WTO members established a new legal framework that fills gaps in the existing General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), in effect since in 1947. The new agreement stipulates obligations and provisions on special and differential treatment for developing and least developed country members as well as the provision of technical assistance and capacity building. Obligations include publication and access to trade related information, appeal procedures, simplification of trade procedures and goods clearance processes, agency cooperation, as well as cross-border customs cooperation.

Calling for the “swift” implementation the WTO Bali Agreement on Trade Facilitation, Mosaha said: “This will go a long way in lowering transaction costs, enhancing competitiveness of the businesses as well increasing intra EAC trade”.

Mosha said that while some progress had been made in ensuring free movement of goods, persons, labour, services and capital, challenges continued to constrain full realisation benefits from integration. Among them he cited 33 non-tariff barriers, non-recognition of the certificate of rules of origin, additional taxes and charges and lack of harmony in domestic tax regime such as excise duty, VAT and income taxes. Source: The New Times.

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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Trade Information Portal to Improve Trade Facilitation in Namibia

Namibia flagThe World Trade Organization General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) 1994 Article X on Trade Facilitation calls for member country trade regulations to be clearly published. The WTO Self-Assessment Guide (2009) outlines the basic standard for internet Publication as: “A Member shall publish all trade related legislation, procedures and documents on a national official internet site or sites”. Usually called a “Trade Repository” or a “Trade Information Portal” the site facilitates awareness, via the internet, of requirements to enable compliance with customs and other agency requirements for the import or export of goods, using the HS classification of goods as the primary organizing principle for cataloguing and retrieving information

USAID Southern African Trade Hub reports that the government of Namibia expects to have its Trade Information Portal up and running by early 2014. The development of portal is supported by the USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub, under its Partnership for Trade Facilitation facility. The Trade Hub recently supported Namibia in a detailed legislative review of the country’s Customs and Excise Act to align it with global and regional legislation and to provide the legislative foundations for electronic trade facilitation measures, including the Trade Information Portal.

Currently trade-related information is made available across number of websites maintained by each government agency responsible for a particular aspect of trade regulation. The Trade Information Portal will provide a single platform where all trade related information for Namibia is collected in one system and readily available for searching and viewing, which will save time and expense for the trading community. The Trade Information Portal uses the latest technology to provide a comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date source for all regulatory information, which will result in tangible benefits for trade facilitation. No longer will it be necessary to seek advice in person from multiple agencies. Furthermore, conflicting advice and guidelines will be avoided by creating a single authoritative reference point. The savings in time and expense will lessen the overall cost of doing business and reduce the time to import or export goods, contributing to Namibia’s improved standing in doing business indexes and transparency.

A significant part of the coordination and development work in setting up the Trade Information Portal will facilitate and shorten the road map towards implementing an electronic National Single Window which is also under consideration by the Namibia government. Source: satradehub.org

Zim-EU Agreement to Suffocate Trade

ZimbabweThe Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA) Zimbabwe signed with the European Union (EU) is set to suffocate the country’s trade and industrial development policies due to the removal of taxes, a regional non-governmental organisation has warned. Zimbabwe alongside Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar concluded the IEPA with the EU that would result in the removal of taxes between the African countries and the EU.

But in an analysis of the trade pact, the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (Seatini) said the elimination of the export taxes is a blow to both the National Trade Policy (NTP) and Industrial Development Policy (IDP) meant to promote the trade and industrial revival respectively.

Last year, the Zimbabwean government launched the Industrial Development Policy 2012-2016 that advocates value-addition or beneficiation and the NTP to guide the country’s trade with the rest of the world.

“There is no doubt that for Zimbabwe to successfully implement the NTP and IDP it will need to use tools such as export taxes. However, Article 15 of the interim EPA agreement that Zimbabwe signed and ratified provides for elimination of export taxes, thereby suffocating the policy space Zimbabwe is referring to in its National Trade policy on the need for value-adding natural resources,” Seatini said in a discussion paper, Zimbabwe’s control over its natural resources in the WTO context.

Article 15 of the IEPA provides that for the duration of the agreement, the parties shall not institute any new duties or taxes on, or in connection with, the exportation of goods to any other party in excess of those imposed on products destined for sale. The organisation recommended that Zimbabwe “must exercise its right to develop its economy and protect the environment through the use of export taxes, until such a time when the economy can competitively trade with the rest of the world enabling it to then gradually eliminate the taxes on a product by-product basis”.

It also recommended that government should consult widely all relevant ministries and the private sector on its existing and proposed laws relating to any prohibitions and restrictions on the export of natural resources especially metals and minerals. Seatini warned that the use of export restrictions would be in violation of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Article XI:2(a) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade does not allow WTO members to impose prohibitions and restrictions on the importation of any product, unless they (restrictions and prohibitions) are temporary, addresses critical shortages, relates to foodstuffs or other products and are essential to the exporting WTO member. It said it would be difficult for Zimbabwe to prove the critical shortage requirement. Source: The Standard – Zimbabwe

World Trade Report 2012

This year’s World Trade Report ventures beyond tariffs to examine other policy measures that can affect trade. As tariffs have fallen in the years since the birth of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1948, attention has progressively shifted towards non-tariff measures (NTMs). The range of NTMs is vast, complex, driven by multiple policy motives, and ever-changing. Public policy objectives underlying NTMs have evolved. The drivers of change are many, including greater inter-dependency in a globalizing world, increased social awareness, and growing concerns regarding health, safety, and environmental quality. Many of these factors call for a deepening of integration, wresting attention away from more traditional and shallower forms of cooperation. Trade in services is a part of this development and has come under greater scrutiny, along with the policies that influence services trade.

So what does the report contain? Click here to download the report!

  • Section A of the Report presents an overview of the history of non-tariff measures in the GATT/WTO. This overview discusses how motivations for using NTMs have evolved, complicating this area of trade policy but not changing the core challenge of managing the relationship between public policy and trading opportunities.
  • Section B examines the reasons why governments use NTMs and services measures and the extent to which public policy interventions may also distort international trade. The phenomenon of off-shoring and the cross-effects of services measures on goods trade are also considered. The section analyses choices among alternative policy instruments from a theoretical and empirical perspective. Finally, case studies are presented on the use of NTMs in particular contexts.These include the recent financial crisis, climate change policy and food safety concerns. The case studies consider how far measures adopted may pose a challenge for international trade.
  • Section C of the Report surveys available sources of information on NTMs and services measures and evaluates their relative strengths and weaknesses. It uses this information to establish a number of “stylized facts”, first about NTMs (TBT/SPS measures in particular) and then about services measures.
  • Section D discusses the magnitude and the trade effects of NTMs and services measures in general, before focusing on TBT/SPS measures and domestic regulation in services. It also examines how regulatory harmonization and/or mutual recognition of standards help to reduce the trade-hindering effects of the diversity of TBT and SPS measures and domestic regulation in services.
  • Section E looks at international cooperation on NTMs and services measures. The first part reviews the economic rationale for such cooperation and discusses the efficient design of rules on NTMs in a trade agreement. The second part looks at how cooperation has occurred on TBT/SPS measures and services regulation in the multilateral trading system, and within other international forums and institutions. The third part of the section deals with the legal analysis of the treatment of NTMs in the GATT/WTO dispute system and interpretations of the rules that have emerged in recent international trade disputes. The section concludes with a discussion of outstanding challenges and key policy implications of the Report. Source: World Trade Organisation.
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