Export Tax in the South African Context

made_in_south_africa___barcode_and_flag_by_netsrotj-d5cmbq9Export taxes are increasingly becoming a focus of attention in South African trade policy, and the objective of this paper is to review the trade and economic issues associated with these taxes. While they are similar to import tariffs in their effects, export taxes remain very much the ‘poor cousins’ of import tariffs in trade policy circles. While attention is paid to them in many bilateral and regional agreements, the multilateral World Trade Organisation (WTO) has little to say about them other than an awakening to their importance when it comes to negotiating a new member’s accession to the world body.

South Africa currently levies an export tax on unpolished diamonds in an attempt to develop local skills and promote the domestic industry, and it is considering a recent department of trade and industry report that recommends that consideration be given to an export tax on iron ore and steel. South Africa has some of the prerequisite market power in the global iron ore trade but not enough to ensure an outcome entirely beneficial to its export trade. The salutary example of South Africa’s competitor India is discussed, as India recently increased its export tax in this sector to 30% and has seen its global market shares plummet. The more interesting sector for South Africa is the ferrochrome and ferrochrome ore trade, as here South Africa does have significant market shares. South Africa has had about a 45% market share over the last three years in global exports, while China has imported around 70% to 85% of this global trade in recent years. Advocates argue that a tax on chromite ore exports will shift the relative economics back to empower South African producers of processed ferrochrome. This sets the stage for an interesting battle between South Africa and China, and one set against the background of South Africa’s recent admission to the BRICS club. If such an export tax is invoked, South Africa needs to be conscious that it at best provides a window of opportunity for the domestic sector to improve its technological efficiency and that it is not a long or even medium-term solution.

For an in-depth appraisal on export tax in South Africa, please read Ron Sandrey’s report “Export tax in the South African context

Source: Tralac & Author -Ron Sandrey

WCO Releases Online WTO/ATF Implementation Guideline

WCO Trade Facilitation Implementation Guidance 1The World Customs Organization (WCO) has launched on its website the WCO Implementation Guidance for the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF) to support WCO Members in their efforts to implement the ATF.

The Guidance presents the importance of WCO instruments and tools such as the Revised Kyoto Convention for ATF implementation.

The Guidance contains the following categories of information for each ATF Article:

  • Overview
  • Text of ATF
  • Relevant RKC standards and RKC Guidelines
  • Other relevant WCO tools
  • Member practices
  • Performance indicators

The Guidance will be updated on a regular basis and a French version will be released shortly.

Source: WCO

Implementing the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

Click on the image to download the Infogram

It is anticipated that most Customs and Border Authorities have at least one common item on their national capacity building agenda’s for 2014 – the Agreement on Trade Facilitation. Many countries, being members of the WCO, would have already acceded to a level of commitment to the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). This requires of them to introduce, at an agreed time, the principles of WCO standards and policies according to the level of their sovereign commitment.

The General Annex to the RKC is the bare minimum a country would be expected to implement in order to for it to be considered compliant with the RKC. From a trade perspective, this also indicates the extent to which your country’s leaders have committed itself towards ‘global integration’.

What the recent Trade Facilitation Agreement (ATF) in Bali does is bind member states to a compendium of requirements necessary for the enactment of certain conditions and obligations as set out in the various articles contained in the agreement. Countries should also note that certain of the ATF provisions include items under the Specific Annexes to the RKC. For a quick reference to see how the RKC and other WCO standards and conventions stack up to the ATF, refer to the WTO Trade Facilitation Toolkit by clicking the hyperlink.

In addition to this, the ATF also makes provision for ‘special and differential treatment’ in regard to developing and least developed countries (Refer to Section II to the WTO ATF).

In essence this allows those countries and opportunity of identifying their (capacity building) needs and setting themselves realistic targets for implementation and compliance to the ATF. To this end 3 Categories are identified for national states to consider in the event they are not at present in a position to accede to some or all of the ATF conditions.

The WCO has also prepared various tools which aim at assisting its members in assessing their national position in regard to the ATF. Members are likewise encouraged to regularly visit the WCO website for updates in this regard.

The following working papers are available from the WCO website and, for ease of access, are listed below together with their hyperlink to the WCO site –

Other related Trade Facilitation documentation can be found at the following link – WTO Trade Facilitation Negotiations

Text of the WTO Free Trade Agreement

Time to modernise trade rules for digital era

digital-ownershipIn the past, nations with the best ships and ports were able to establish global trade leadership and the growth that came along with it. Today, global trade has gone digital.

In the digital economy software-enabled products and services such as cloud computing and data analytics are the key drivers of growth and competitiveness. In fact, the world now invests more than $3.7 trillion (R40 trillion) on information and communications technologies a year.

In South Africa, we spend $26 billion a year and the total for the Middle East/Africa region is $228bn. However, to maximise our return on that investment, it is important for policymakers to eliminate barriers that could inhibit the continued expansion of digital trade.

It is clear that software-driven technology is transforming every sector of the global economy. For example, thanks to unprecedented processing power and vast data storage capabilities, banks can detect and prevent fraud by analyzing large numbers of transactions; doctors are now able to study historical trends in medical records to find more effective treatments; and manufacturers can pinpoint the sources of delays in global supply chains.

Against the backdrop of this kind of innovation, any country that wants to compete in today’s international marketplace must have a comprehensive digital agenda at the core of its growth and development strategy. In addition to domestic initiatives such as investment in education and skills training, or development of information technology infrastructure, policymakers can succeed in laying the groundwork for broad-based growth in the digital age if they focus on three big priorities.

First, any bilateral or multilateral trade agreement needs to facilitate the growth of innovative services such as cloud computing. As part of this, there should be clear rules that allow information to move securely across borders and prevent governments from mandating where servers must be located except in very specific situations.

Second, to promote innovation and foreign investment, continued intellectual property protection is vital and the use of voluntary, market-led technology standards – instead of country-specific criteria that force firms to jump through different technical hoops every time they enter a new local market – should be encouraged.

Third, all governments should ensure there are level playing fields for all competitors so customers have access to the best products and services the world has to offer.

At the same time, disclosures about government surveillance programmes in the US and other countries have sparked a renewed focus on data protection and personal privacy. Those concerns are worthy of debate and careful reform. But it is critically important not to conflate separate issues: We can’t let national security concerns derail digital trade.

There is precedent for navigating periods of change such as this in the global trade arena. Policymakers stood at a similar inflection point in the 1980s when they recognised the keys to growth in the coming decades would be intellectual property, services and foreign direct investment.

With foresight and hard work, they updated trade rules in the Uruguay Round of multilateral negotiations to ensure commitments were in place to provide a check against protectionist impulses. Now, as governments pursue robust growth agendas for the digital economy, it is critical we modernise trade rules again. Source: The Software Alliance (South Africa).

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

What border barriers impede business ability?

ICCThe International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has released the results of its survey ‘What border barriers impede business ability?’. The analyses highlights common impediments to cross border trading that can be taken into consideration when determining how barriers to trade can be reduced to stimulate global economic growth.

The ICC recognises that the survey results are neither statistically valid nor entirely representative of the hundreds of thousands of organizations that trade globally, the survey does much to reveal a set of common prerequisites – such as predictability, reliability and consistency – that international traders seek. The ICC concludes that there is a need for further capacity-building efforts, in particular education and availability of information for both traders and border control officials on the correct process to follow. The survey results illustrates the need for an effective customs-business dialogue at national level to find ways to lessen delays in trade processes and shorten release times, as called for by ICC.

The survey coincides with a number of international developments seeking to facilitate trade and simplify border procedures. These include the conclusion of a multilateral agreement on trade facilitation at the 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in December 2013 and the ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Negotiations. Source: International Chamber of Commerce

Death by China

DeathByChina1013x1463-709x1024The featured documentary should be mandatory viewing for all small to medium company owners, economic and foreign trade advisers. While we are inclined to blame the Chinese for all prevailing economic woes, it is in fact the blatant greed of western CEO’s – multinational companies in particular – who have placed profit above prosperity of their country. The film clearly spells out the causes for the systematic destruction of the american economy and manufacturing base, all for the sake of shareholders and outrageous CEO bonuses. The rampant expansion of China in Africa should raise serious concerns for all sub-Saharan African citizens whose elected leaders appear happy, but oblivious, in courting the Chinese with little or no consideration of the realities of their economic and human rights track record.

DEATH BY CHINA is a documentary feature that pointedly confronts the most urgent problem facing America today – its increasingly destructive economic trade relationship with a rapidly rising China. Since China began flooding U.S. markets with illegally subsidized products in 2001, over 50,000 American factories have disappeared, more than 25 million Americans can’t find a decent job, and America now owes more than 3 trillion dollars to the world’s largest totalitarian nation. Through compelling interviews with voices across the political spectrum, DEATH BY CHINA exposes that the U.S.-China relationship is broken and must be fixed if the world is going to be a place of peace and prosperity. Visit – www.deathbychina.com for details on acquiring this powerful documentary.

“A truly life-changing, mouth-dropping documentary film…Peter Navarro’s ‘Death by China’ grabs you by the throat and never lets go.” Francesca McCaffery, Blackbook Magazine

WCO to develop Implementation Tool for WTO ATF

WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

WCO and WTO leaders meet in Geneva (WCO)

At the invitation of WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya met with Mr. Azevedo at WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 20 January 2014. They agreed that close cooperation between the two organizations is vital for successful implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF).

Secretary General Mikuriya emphasized the consistent and complementary nature between the ATF and the WCO Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). He also described how the WCO Economic Competitiveness Package, that includes the RKC and all other Customs trade facilitation instruments, guidelines and best practices, will support implementation of ATF. Mr. Mikuriya also confirmed his readiness to involve other international organizations, development banks, donors and other stakeholders at a WCO forum to contribute to cooperation in support of the ATF.

Director General Azevedo was pleased to hear that the WCO was planning to publish an implementation tool to connect each provision of the ATF to WCO tools as well as a briefing document enabling Customs administrations to communicate with trade ministries. He expressed his willingness to leverage WCO expertise and experts for the WTO Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation as well as ATF needs assessment and implementation. Mr. Azevedo also suggested that the ATF provides another opportunity for the two organizations to enhance the good working relations that already exist in many areas beyond trade facilitation.

The two leaders also discussed how multilateral institutions could work on regional integration matters and agreed on the importance of adopting global standards and best practices to ensure connectivity at borders. Source: WCO

Communication: Sharing Information for Better Communication

WCO Customs Theme 2014Following a theme of logical progression over the past few years, the WCO has introduced “Communication” as this year’s theme for the 170+ Customs Administrations around the world. Last year’s theme “Innovation” set the platform for the introduction of innovative ideas and business practices, new partnerships, as well as new solutions and technologies.

While still very much in its infancy, the WCO’s Globally Networked Customs (GNC) philosophy will undoubtedly gain more and more traction as administrations iron out their national and regional aspirations and objectives.

The recent agreement on Trade Facilitation at the WTO’s conference in Bali adds further credence to the importance of the principles of the Revised Kyoto Convention (RKC). For the first time we see an attempt to fuse customs principles into a package of binding requirements.

Now, more than ever, Customs needs to work ‘collaboratively’ with all stakeholders.

With Customs and Border Agencies etching out new legal requirements, as well as organisational structures and plans, trade practitioners will likewise have to keep a watchful eye on these developments. Sometimes, not necessarily just for their own needs and obligations in their domestic markets, traders need to ensure that they keep apace with ‘destination’ Customs requirements which in these modern times are all too frequent. By opening its door to the business community, the WCO plays an ever-increasing overarching role in providing the private sector a ‘window’ to its thinking and ideology.

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

What is the value of a slick customs service?

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

Cahir Castle Portcullis by Kevin King

The traditional symbol of customs and borders services is the portcullis – the fortification through which a ship used to enter a port. But as developing countries are increasingly asked to recognise the benefits of liberalised trade to the detriment of their import duty revenue, how can they be helped to raise the portcullis? And is it really in their interests to do so?

With world trade growth expanding more than twice as rapidly as gross domestic product (GDP) over the past decade, says Steve Brady, director, Customs and Trade Facilitation for development consultancy Crown Agents, the potential rewards from participating in world trade are significant. “According to figures from WTO, in 2011 world merchandise exports and imports in real terms grew by over 5%. As a result, each reached over $1.8tn, the highest level in history.”

The major players working with developing country governments to help them benefit from this increase in trade include the World Bank, ICC, World Customs Organisation (WCO), IMF, UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), development banks and specialist intermediaries such as Crown Agents.

A number of countries have improved their capacity as a result of international and domestic efforts, yet some are still hesitant to do so. The Centre for Customs and Excise Studies (CCES) at the University of Canberra finds that many developing country governments are heavily dependent on the revenue from import duties – in some cases this can be as high as 70% of a country’s total revenue base. The desire to protect this is understandably strong. Yet this same desire can be used to drive forward modernisation efforts, explains Professor David Widdowson, CEO of CCES. “Revenue leakage resulting from commercial fraud, poor customs and border procedures and corruption represents a major impediment to poverty reduction.”

Similarly time-consuming manual processing systems, over-regulation, or outright corruption, will discourage trade and investment and further undermine a country’s development. “In the worst cases up to 20 signatures are required to obtain customs clearance of goods, all of which require ‘informal payments’,” says Widdowson. “I have also seen examples of 15 different government agencies playing some role at the border, all acting independently.”

Guidelines or blueprints to modernise such customs and borders processes are available, for example, via the revised Kyoto convention (extolling the basic principles of automation, simplification, responsiveness to the regulation, consistency and co-ordination); the “Framework of standards to secure and facilitate global trade” developed by the WCO; and its “Columbus programme.”

Turkey is cited by Sandeep Raj Jain, economic affairs officer at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), as a case study for the successful modernisation of customs systems, having consolidated 18 previously autonomous border gates and introduced a single IT clearance system, leading to an increase in tax revenues and a decrease in clearance time to the benefit of incoming and outgoing trade. Angola increased receipts sixteen-fold from $215.45m in 2000 (£148m) to $3,352m in 2011 through an improved National Customs Service and the introduction of an automated entry processing system and customs clearance Single Administrative Document.

The African Development Bank also supported post-conflict Liberia with the extension of an automated system for customs data, helping to reduce the time to clear goods at the port from 60 days to less than 10 days and increase revenue collection at three ports from about $4m a month to $10m-$12m. This, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia has said, given the government additional scarce revenues to invest in the projects to improve the livelihoods of people.

Horror stories also abound of revenue loss, acting as a cautionary tale for leaving outdated customs processes untouched. A World Bank report, for example, finds that in Algeria smuggling caused a loss to the public exchequer rising from DA18bn in 2006 ($237m) to over DA61bn in 2011.

The message from the international community is that improved, automated and transparent customs services not only help eradicate theft and corruption, but also increase revenue through increased trade. Any fall in revenue from import tariffs due to signing up to bilateral free trade agreements can also be offset, says Bijal Tanna of Ernst & Young LLP: “One only has to look at the take-up of VAT by countries since the 1980s to understand that there is a consumer tax outlet to offset any loss of revenue from customs duty reductions. Back in the late 1980s, approximately 50 countries had VAT, now it is in place in over 150 countries.”

However, these arguments don’t always reach an appreciative audience. “In my experience”, says Widdowson, “economies may give lip service to the trade facilitation agenda, including entering into free trade agreements, but still expect their customs administration to collect traditional levels of duty. For example, with the introduction of free trade arrangements – hence falling duty rates – and a downturn in international trade, the Philippines continues to increase the ‘revenue targets’ of its bureau of customs, the derivation of which appears to be devoid of any analytical rigour.” (emphasis – mine)

Tanna also points to the collapse of the Doha round of the WTO negotiations heralding a breakdown in efforts to find a single global platform to drive a uniform approach to trade liberalisation. Perhaps it is the obligation of the international community to renew such efforts, alongside projects to improve customs systems in-country. Source: Original article by Tim Smedley of The Guardian

WTO Bali – Trade Facilitation Agreement

WTO-globalvoices_org__au_The draft text relating to the outcome on a Trade Facilitation Agreement at 9th Ministerial Conference of the WTO can be located here!   It reveals some significant impact and far-reaching implications for the Customs administrations, but to a great extent it will probably be welcomed by the world’s trading community. In the South African context, readers may find Article 11 on “Freedom of Transit” extremely interesting, if not controversial by some members of the establishment. In essence it’s all about being transparent! Source: World Trade Organisation.

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.”

Continue reading →

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)

Hurdles before trans-border trade facilitation

Port of Lagos, Nigeria

Port of Lagos, Nigeria

The following article, allbeit long, provides a good overview of trade facilitation developments in Nigeria. I doubt that there is a single country on the African continent that cannot draw some parallel experience contained in this article.

Trade across borders is not a new phenomenon. But the World Trade Organization is now championing the concept of trade facilitation among nations, which has been defined as simplication , harmonization, standardization and modernization of trade procedures.

Trade facilitation seeks to reduce trade transaction between businesses and government. This concept is receiving unprecedented attention globally and it is at the heart of numerous initiatives within the customs world.

The United Nations Centre for Trade facilitation and Electronic business (UN/CEFACT) in its recommendation No 4 of 1974, said trade facilitation programme ought to be guided by simplication, harmonization and standardization (of trade procedures) so that transaction becomes easier, quicker and more economical than before.

According to the body, there was need to eliminate duplication in formalities, process and procedures; align all national formalities, procedures operation and documentation with international conventions, standard and practices to develop international agreed format for practices, procedures, documentation and information in international trade.

Proponent of trade facilitation believed that if transaction cost in international trade is reduced, there could be creation of wealth, especially in developing countries where red-tapism and other procedural barriers to trade tend to be pronounced.

The organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated recently that even one per cent reduction in such “hidden cost” would boost the global economy by $40 billion with most of these benefits going to the developing world. Trade facilitation therefore encourages, or perhaps requires countries to adopt means such as publishing their imports and export procedures, reducing the number of forms that importers and exporters are required to complete, allowing forms to be submitted on-line, and checking corruption at border post.

Nigeria, though a signatory to Kyoto 1974 and other convention on trade facilitation, is far from embracing the ideals of the global concept.

The president of the council of Managing Directors of Customs licensed Agents, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, said that although Nigeria was yet to comply with all the provisions of trade facilitation, it has the tools to facilitate international trade, such as the scanning machines and the e-platform.

“In Nigeria, the real cost of doing business is an impediment to trade facilitation. We have no good procedure for goods on transit to Niger and Chad. That has been taken over now by our neighboring countries. One of the key component of trade facilitation is charges which must be tied to services. We have shortcoming in that area. We are still working at cross purposes when other countries are busy harmonizing their import and export procedures”, he said.

In Nigeria, there is no one stop shop process for goods clearance as we have over 10 agencies superintending goods clearing procedure at the nation’s gateways.

“This is very bad and constitute hindrance to trade. The regulatory process is supposed to have been harmonized with other agencies to have a one stop procedures. Procedures are not published and not in line with WTO article which has to do with publication, regulation and administration of procedures. Our trading regime are expensive, our procedures are cumbersome. When others are simplifying and synchronizing their process of import and exports, our import and export procedures are lengthy. We have not been able to harmonise process and procedures and that is where we have a problem. If you still have to go through 100 per cent examination when we have the scanners, that is an impediment to trade,” Amiwero said; adding that the time spent to conclude business in Nigerian ports and border post is much higher than anywhere in the West African sub-region.

The level of corruption at the port border post is high and making them the most expensive business environment in Africa; as un-receipted charges far outweigh the official charges in the process of good clearing. Importers are still submitting hard documents instead of making use of e-devices, and going through the cumbersome process of clearing and receiving of consignments. Continue reading →