Event – Role of the Private Sector in Support of the Trade Facilitation Agreement

international-trade1The role of the private sector in the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) will be the focus of the 2015 edition of the Global Facilitation Partnership for Transportation and Trade (GFP) meeting. With the world’s customs administrations currently identifying their respective TFA  implementation commitments and setting up National Trade Facilitation Committees, trade and logistics operators can learn how they can participate in such initiatives by attending these sessions.

The GFP meeting will be held at Palais des Nations, Geneva, on 22 April, and will be divided into three thematic sessions.

The first session, ‘Governments’ Priorities: Strategies for Fostering Private Sector Participation in the TFA Implementation Process’ will look at how governments are planning to implement the TFA.

It will focus on how the private sector is consulted and how an effective participation of the private sector can be facilitated to implement the Agreement.

The second session, ‘Priorities, Perspectives, and Expectations from the Private Sector on TFA Implementation’ will assess how the private sector – including large corporates and small and medium-sized enterprises – view TFA implementation. It will look at the potential benefits from a private-sector perspective, and how the sector can contribute to national and international initiatives to implement the agreement.

The third session, ‘International Organizations’ Co-ordination and Partnership for Supporting TFA Implementation’, will provide an opportunity to share information and experiences on how the TFA can be implemented with public-private partnerships in mind, as how national trade facilitation committees can better support this process.

ITC invites all interested stakeholders to join the GFP meeting at the Palais des Nations on 22 April from 9:00. Click here for link to online registration.

Source: International Trade Centre (Geneva)

Important Implications of the WTO TFA on Landlocked Countries

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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Africa Under ‘Unprecedented’ Pressure from Rich Countries over Trade Facilitation Agreement

flags2African countries are coming under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union to reverse the decision adopted by their trade ministers to implement the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement on a “provisional” basis.

At last week’s summit of African Union leaders in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, “there was unprecedented [U.S. and European Union] pressure and bulldozing to change the decision reached by the African trade ministers on April 27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to implement the trade facilitation (TF) agreement on a provisional basis under paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration,” Ambassador Nelson Ndirangu, director for economics and external trade in the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, told IPS.

“This pressure comes only when the issues and interests of rich countries are involved but not when the concerns of the poorest countries are to be addressed,” Ambassador Ndirangu said.

“Clearly, there are double-standards,” the senior Kenyan trade official added, lamenting the pressure and arm-twisting that was applied on African countries for definitive implementation of the agreement.

The TF agreement was concluded at the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia, last year. It was taken out of the Doha Development Agenda as a low-hanging fruit ready for consummation. More importantly, the agreement was a payment to the United States and the European Union to return to the Doha negotiating table.

The ambitious TF agreement is aimed at harmonising customs rules and regulations as followed in the industrialised countries. It ensures unimpeded market access for companies such as Apple, General Electric, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Nokia, Hyundai, Toyota and Lenovo in developing and poor countries.

Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has suggested that the TF agreement would reduce tariffs by 10 percent in the poorest countries.

In return for the agreement, developing and least-developed countries were promised several best endeavour outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development.

They include general services (such as land rehabilitation, soil conservation and resource management, drought management and flood control), public stockholding for food security, an understanding on tariff rate quota administration, export subsidies, and phasing out of trade-distorting cotton subsidies (provided largely by the United States) in agriculture.

The non-binding developmental outcomes include preferential rules of origin for the export of industrial goods by the poorest countries, a special waiver to help services suppliers in the poorest countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least developed countries (LDCs), and a monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

African countries were unhappy with the Bali package because they said it lacked balance and was tilted heavily in favour of the TF agreement forced by the industrialised countries on the poor nations.

The Bali outcomes, said African Union Trade Commissioner Fatima Acyl, “were not the most optimal decisions in terms of African interests … We have to reflect and learn from the lessons of Bali on how we can ensure that our interests and priorities are adequately addressed in the post-Bali negotiations.”

The African ministers in Malabo directed their negotiators to propose language on the Protocol of Amendment – the legal instrument that will bring the TF agreement into force at the WTO – that the TF agreement will be provisionally implemented and in completion of the entire Doha Round of negotiation.

African countries justify their proposal on the basis of paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration which enables WTO members to implement agreement either on a provisional or definitive basis.

The African position on the TF agreement was not acceptable to the rich countries. In a furious response, the industrialised countries adopted a belligerent approach involving threats to terminate preferential access.

The United States, for example, threatened African countries that it would terminate the preferential access provided under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) programme if they did not reverse their decision on the TF, said a senior African trade official from Southern Africa.

The WTO has also joined the wave of protests launched by the industrialised countries against the African decision for deciding to implement the TF on a provisional basis. “I am aware that there are concerns about actions on the part of some delegations [African countries] which could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said, at a meeting of the informal trade negotiations committee on June 25.

The African decision, according to Azevedo, “would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement – including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions – every single one of them – would be compromised,” he said.

The United States agreed with Azevedo’s assessment of the potential danger of unravelling the TF agreement, and the European Union’s trade envoy to the WTO, Ambassador Angelos Pangratis, said that “the credibility of the negotiating function of this organisation is once again at stake” because of the African decision.

The United States and the European Union stepped up their pressure by sending security officials to Malabo to oversee the debate, said another African official. He called it an “unprecedented power game rarely witnessed at an African heads of nations meeting.”

In the face of the strong-arm tactics, several African countries such as Nigeria and Mauritius refused to join the ministerial consensus to implement the TF agreement on a provisional basis. Several other African countries subsequently retracted their support for the declaration agreed to in April.

In a nutshell, African Union leaders were forced to change their course by adopting a new decision which “reaffirms commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and to its rapid completion in accordance with its development objectives.”

The African Union “also reaffirms its commitment to all the decisions the Ministers took in Bali which are an important stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round … To this end, leaders acknowledge that the Trade Facilitation Agreement is an integral part of the process.”

Regarding capacity-building assistance to developing countries to help them implement the binding TF commitments, African Union countries still want to see up-front delivery of assistance. The new decision states that African Union leaders “reiterate in this regard that assistance and support for capacity-building should be provided as envisaged in the Trade Facilitation Agreement in a predictable manner so as to enable African economies to acquire the necessary capacity for the implementation of the agreement.”

The decision taken by the African leaders is clearly aimed at implementing the TF decision, but there is no clarity yet on how to implement the decision, said Ndirangu. “We never said we will not implement the TF agreement but we don’t know how to implement this agreement,” he added.

In an attempt to ensure that the rich countries do not walk away with their prized jewel in the Doha crown by not addressing the remaining developmental issues, several countries – South Africa, India, Uganda, Tanzania, Solomon Islands and Zimbabwe – demanded Wednesday that there has to be a clear linkage between the implementation of the TF agreement and the rest of the Doha Development Agenda on the basis of the Single Undertaking, which stipulates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed!

More than 180 days after the Bali meeting, there is no measurable progress on the issues raised by the poor countries. But the TF agreement is on course for final implementation by the end of 2015. Source: Inter Press Service