Trade Facilitation Agreement enters into force

wto-tfa-enters-into-force

Trade Facilitation Agreement, 22 February 2017.

A major milestone for the global trading system was reached on 22 February 2017 when the first multilateral deal concluded in the 21 year history of the World Trade Organization entered into force. In receiving four more ratifications for the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), the WTO has obtained the two-thirds acceptance of the agreement from its 164 members needed to bring the TFA into force.

Rwanda, Oman, Chad and Jordan (pictured above) submitted their instruments of acceptance to WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, bringing the total number of ratifications over the required threshold of 110. The entry into force of this agreement, which seeks to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders, launches a new phase for trade facilitation reforms all over the world and creates a significant boost for commerce and the multilateral trading system as a whole.

Full implementation of the TFA is forecast to slash members’ trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries having the most to gain, according to a 2015 study carried out by WTO economists. The TFA is also likely to reduce the time needed to import goods by over a day and a half and to export goods by almost two days, representing a reduction of 47 per cent and 91 per cent respectively over the current average.

Implementing the TFA is also expected to help new firms export for the first time. Moreover, once the TFA is fully implemented, developing countries are predicted to increase the number of new products exported by as much as 20 per cent, with least developed countries (LDCs) likely to see an increase of up to 35 per cent, according to the WTO study.

At present, 10 out of 24 Members of East and Southern Africa (ESA) have ratified the TFA. These are; Mauritius, Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya, Zambia, Seychelles, Madagascar, Swaziland, Mozambique and Rwanda. So where to now South Africa?

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OECD estimates WTO TFA could to cut trade cost by 17.5% on customs rules

cut-red-tape“Simplifying trade documentation”; “automating border procedures”; “streamlining border controls” – all cliche’s of the modern customs and international trade scene, but just how attainable are they? Beyond the pleasantries, and fanfare of ribbon cutting ceremonies, very little seems to happen at the cold face. Sovereign states are inward-looking and jealously wish to preserve their ‘sovereign domains’.

A major World Trade Organization deal on streamlining global customs rules could cut international trade costs by between 12.5 percent and 17.5 percent, a study by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development showed on Thursday.

A deal between India and the United States on the Trade Facilitation Agreement last year, which needs to be backed by all 160 WTO members, had resurrected hopes that the trade body could push through such reforms to cut red tape.

“There are very practical measures that we’ve identified that offer significant benefits,” Ken Ash, the OECD director for Trade and Agriculture, told media.

“Things like simplifying the required trade documentation. Automating border procedures, or streamlining border controls.”
Economists say the Trade Facilitation Agreement could save $1 trillion. Ash declined to endorse this figure, only saying the Paris-based body expected each 1 percent reduction in worldwide trade costs to bring $40 billion in savings.

Australia was to formally accept the agreement later on Thursday, Steven Ciobo, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said at the news briefing in Paris, making Australia the seventh WTO member to adopt the agreement.

US-India agreement to pave the way to implementation of the WTO “Bali Agreement” on trade facilitation?

India_USA-3The U.S. and India have reached an agreement that promises to pave the way toward global implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). The breakthrough agreement between India and the U.S. should now make it possible for member countries to begin implementing the requirements of the agreement, providing potentially significant financial benefits to businesses trading goods around the world as local customs procedures are streamlined. The target date for ratification of the agreement is 31 July 2015. Upon ratification by two-thirds of the membership, the agreement will enter into force for all WTO states. Member state will then begin the process of adopting conforming legislation.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement

Concluded in December 2013, the TFA is intended to streamline, and to some extent harmonize, customs clearance procedures around the world by imposing new multilateral disciplines on customs procedures in all member countries. The agreement imposes basic globally applicable principles for transparency, due process, and reasonableness in the development and implementation of customs clearance requirements across a broad spectrum of activities related to importing, exporting, and transiting of goods.

The U.S.-India agreement

While the specific details of the bilateral agreement are not publicly available at this time, a press release from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative states that there are two key elements of the deal:

  • the U.S. and India agree that the multilateral TFA should be implemented without conditions, on the basis of a standard legal instrument for implementing new WTO agreements; and
  • the “peace clause” agreed upon by WTO members in December 2013, under which WTO members will refrain from initiating challenges to certain food security programs under the WTO dispute settlement process, will remain in place “until a permanent solution is found.”

Since announcement of the agreement last December, India has raised concerns that developing countries need greater assurances regarding their ability to maintain government agricultural buying programs and other farm subsidies until an agreement could be reached among WTO members on how to bring such programs into conformity with the body’s trade rules. The U.S. and India had previously disagreed on the form such assurances should take.

Under the new bilateral agreement, the U.S. and India will seek a General Council decision on the two key elements outlined above. A General Council decision will require the consensus of all WTO members. Source: Hogan Lovells International Trade Alert

WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement – Dead!

The World Trade Organisation headquarters in Geneva [AFP Photo]

The World Trade Organisation headquarters in Geneva [AFP Photo]

The World Trade Organization got a surprise setback on Thursday when India, pushing for concessions on agricultural stockpiling, vetoed plans for universal customs rules. The deal could have added $1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy.

The July 31 deadline on the first proposal for major global economic reform in two decades – a series of customs procedures known as “trade facilitation” – left negotiators empty-handed after India refused to sign up to it.

India, with its large number of poor and new nationalist government, had demanded the exclusive right to subsidize and stockpile grains which is not permitted by WTO rules.

The WTO, experiencing what may be its worst setback in its 19-year history, reluctantly admitted defeat.

We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge that gap,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told negotiators in Geneva just hours before the deadline was set to lapse.

Some analysts are of the opinion the failure represents the beginning of a new era of trade deals, which will depend more on individual economies forging their own initiatives, as opposed to attempting to force global reform.

Today’s developments suggest that there is little hope for truly global trade talks to take place,” Jake Colvin at the National Foreign Trade Council, a leading US business group, told Reuters.

The vast majority of countries who understand the importance of modernizing trade rules and keeping their promises will have to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward.

Whether or not other countries will pick up the dropped ball and try to move forward despite the loss is not yet clear, but the present mood is noticeably downbeat.

We’re obviously sad and disappointed that a very small handful of countries were unwilling to keep their commitments from the December conference in Bali, and we agree with the Director-General that action has put this institution on very uncertain new ground,” US Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke told reporters.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that some countries may decide to go ahead with the plan without India’s support.

However, Azevedo said that while the world’s largest economies had choices on how to respond to the failed talks, the poorest economies would suffer the brunt of the fallout.

If the system fails to function properly then the smallest nations will be the biggest losers,” he said. “It would be a tragic outcome for those economies – and therefore a tragic outcome for us all.

Source: Russia Today (contributed by V Singh)

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WTO launches new Trade Facilitation ‘Facility’

Azevêdo launches new WTO Facility [Photo: WTO]

Azevêdo launches new WTO Facility [Photo: WTO]

A new initiative unveiled at the WTO on 22 July 2014 will help developing countries and least-developed countries reap the benefits of the WTO’s new Trade Facilitation Agreement, which was agreed at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013.

The new Facility will complement existing efforts by regional and multilateral agencies, bilateral donors, and other stakeholders to provide Trade Facilitation-related technical assistance and capacity-building support. It will act as a focal point for implementation efforts. It will become operational when the protocol to insert the Trade Facilitation Agreement into the existing regulatory framework is adopted by WTO Members. The functions of the Facility will include:

  • supporting LDCs and developing countries to assess their specific needs and identify possible development partners to help them meet those needs
  • ensuring the best possible conditions for the flow of information between donors and recipients through the creation of an information sharing platform for demand and supply of Trade Facilitation-related technical assistance
  • disseminating best practice in implementation of Trade Facilitation measures
  • providing support to find sources of implementation assistance, including formally requesting the Director-General to act as a facilitator in securing funds for specific project implementation
  • providing grants for the preparation of projects in circumstances where a Member has identified a potential donor but has been unable to develop a project for that donor’s consideration, and is unable to find funding from other sources to support the preparation of a project proposal
  • providing project implementation grants related to the implementation of Trade Facilitation Agreement provisions in circumstances where attempts to attract funding from other sources have failed. These grants will be limited to “soft infrastructure” projects, such as modernization of customs laws through consulting services, in-country workshops, or training of officials.

South Africa, on the other hand has warned of the concerns of developing countries being sidelined under a global trade deal, adding to fears India and some African states may block the landmark Bali agreement. South African Minister for Trade and Industry further intimated that the country would have no difficulty in implementing the trade facilitation agreement but said it would “go along with” the decisions made by its allies within the WTO. Source: WTO

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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

UNCTAD and International Trade Centre forge deal to assist LDCs attain Trade Facilitation compliance

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC"s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi (left) and the ITC”s Executive Director Arancha González, shake hands upon signing the Memorandum of Understanding. (UNCTAD)

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) have joined forces to assist developing countries in the implementation of the recent WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia. The two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding 4 March reaffirming this collaboration.

“The Trade Facilitation Agreement is a real opportunity for developing countries, but only if they can put its provisions into practice,” said Arancha González, ITC’s Executive Director.

“The two agencies complement each other very well and can offer meaningful support to developing countries together,” said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi. UNCTAD already has a successful programme in building institutional capacity around effective trade facilitation, while ITC has experience in building the capacity of the private sector and increasing their export competitiveness”, he added.

The programme which the agencies will develop will focus particularly on Least Developed Countries.

Initially, the cooperation will concentrate on helping countries to identify and categorise the commitments under the Agreement in categories A, B and C and ensuring support for implementing the transparency provisions of the Agreement. These include ensuring better and easier access to information for traders; helping to develop advance rulings and rights of appeal legislation; facilitating greater predictability and reliability of procedures through simplified formalities and documentation and the use of international standards; and the adoption of single windows for traders.

“These are just some of the areas where the ITC and UNCTAD have identified clear needs in developing countries based on UNCTAD”s needs assessment programmes and the surveys undertaken by the ITC of its SME clients,” Mr. Kituyi said.

“In some cases we will need to ensure better cooperation between the public and private sector,” Ms. González said. “This is the ITC”s bread and butter: supporting a trade dialogue between business and policy makers.”

The collaboration between the two agencies is in response to a critical issue identified by developing countries in the lead-up to December’s WTO conference: whether there was enough financing and to support the necessary reforms, particularly in LDCs. This partnership will provide an opportunity to donors and other development partners to demonstrate their commitment to the implementation of global trade facilitation reform by working with UNCTAD and ITC. The agencies will collaborate with other organisations and the private sector to advance implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

“The hope is that donors will see this collaborative venture between the ITC and UNCTAD, as an effective and efficient platform for helping developing countries, especially LDCs, to take advantage of the benefits an effective facilitating architecture can bring,” Mr. Kituyi said.

The private sector is also urged to explore ways that they can partner with the ITC and UNCTAD to provide their expertise to SMEs in developing countries. “Making the process of trade easier in developing countries is a plus for the global trade reality,” concluded Ms. Gonzalez, “It is a win-win situation”. Source: UNCTAD