WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement enters into force

Alicia Nicholls

Today the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement, the first multilateral trade agreement to be concluded since the WTO came into being over twenty years ago, has entered into force. The Trade Facilitation Agreement aims to expedite the process of the movement of goods across  national borders and was concluded as part of the Bali Package coming out of the WTO Ministerial in 2013.

For immediate entry into force the Agreement needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the WTO’s membership, that is, 110 member countries. That threshold was met today when Chad, Jordan, Oman and Rwanda submitted their instruments of ratification.

As the World Bank’s Annual Doing Business Reports show, countries’ customs procedures can vary from a few to a multiplicity of steps, which can significantly increase the amount of time goods take to clear borders, which increases costs to both suppliers and consumers. As supply chains become  increasingly globalised, so is the need for more expeditious trade flows and standardisation of customs procedures. The Trade Facilitation Agreement’s provisions provide standards which were inspired by international best practices.WTO economists in the World Trade Report 2015 estimated that the Agreement would lower members’ trade costs by an estimated 14.3% on average.

Developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have the option to determine their pace of implementation by designating each of the provisions according to one of three categories: A,B,C, with A being the commitments each country can undertake as soon as the Agreement comes into force. The Agreement also includes provisions on customs cooperation. A Trade Facilitation Facility was also created at the request of developing countries to assist them and Least Developed Countries in implementing the Agreement.

So far besides St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the following countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have ratified the TFA: Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana,  Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and Dominica. Reforms undertaken by CARICOM countries pursuant to Agreement could help to facilitate the movement of goods trade within the Community through more simplified customs procedures and lower border costs. Like other developing countries, CARICOM countries would also be able to access the Trade Facilitation Facility to assist in their implementation of the Agreement’s reforms.

For further information, please see the WTO’s press release.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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