On May 22 and 24, 2019, the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago underwent the fourth review of its trade policies and practices under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Policy Review Mechanism. Trade Policy Reviews are the process by which the trade practices and policies of each WTO member are collectively evaluated by the WTO Membership (acting as the Trade Policy Review Body) at periodic intervals. Trinidad & Tobago is reviewed every six years and previously underwent reviews in 2012, 2005 and 1998.
In April this year, the Trade Policy Review Mechanism celebrated 30 years of existence. It is an important aspect of the WTO’s monitoring function and aims to periodically evaluate the impact of each Member’s trade policies and practices on the multilateral system, thereby ensuring accountability, predictability and transparency of the rules-based multilateral trading system.
An independent report prepared by the WTO Secretariat and a report by the WTO member being reviewed form the basis of the review. Trade Policy Reviews are a detailed and lengthy process which begin many months in advance of the actual meetings in Geneva. In January 2019, a WTO Review team visited Trinidad & Tobago and consulted with various government and private sector stakeholders. This week a delegation from Trinidad & Tobago which was led by H.E. Senator Paula Gopee-Scoon, Minister of Trade and Industry of Trinidad & Tobago and comprised five technical members, was in Geneva, Switzerland for the period May 20-24 to attend the review meetings at the WTO.
Trinidad & Tobago received largely positive feedback for the current review period (2012-2019). According to the concluding remarks by the Chairperson, more than 200 questions were submitted by 15 Members. The questions and answers are usually available six weeks after the review process is completed. The Chairperson’s concluding remarks noted that Trinidad & Tobago provided answers to all the written questions submitted in advance of the meeting.
The Chairperson’s concluding remarks listed the areas in which WTO Members appeared to be pleased with Trinidad & Tobago’s performance, including the return to economic growth after a period of recession, the steps taken to improve its government procurement regime through the passage of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, the modernization of its customs infrastructure and the introduction of a single electronic window in 2012 and the introduction of a new online payment system for import tariffs and other taxes and fees in 2019. They also praised the twin island Republic’s active participation in the WTO, its acceptance of the Protocol Amending the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 2013 and its ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2015.
Trinidad & Tobago was encouraged by some Members to join the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and to become an observer to the Agreement on Government Procurement. Other areas suggested for improvement include facilitation of access to visas and foreign exchange, improving the regime for Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Standards (SPS) and providing further information on enforcement actions for intellectual property rights. Some Members also encouraged Trinidad & Tobago to notify its announcement of an import ban on plastics from 2019 to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade to allow comments from Members.
Members, however, raised some areas of particular concern. On the issue of tariffs, they noted, for example, that the applied Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rate exceeded the country’s bound rate on 59 tariff lines in 2018, up from 50 in 2011 during its last review. Another area of concern for Members was while the import surcharges imposed in 1990 were supposed to be temporary, the Government had continued to apply new import surcharges. Members also noted that Trinidad & Tobago’s notifications were either not up to date or outstanding in some areas, but were pleased to learn that the country made a formal request for technical assistance on notifications.
While Trade Policy Reviews are an often intensive exercise for the Member being reviewed, they are an important opportunity for WTO Members to query other Members’ trade policies and practices, as well as for Members themselves to receive objective periodic feedback on their adherence to rules, disciplines and commitments under the WTO’s agreements, as well as on their general trade and investment framework. This feedback could be useful to Governments seeking to make business and investment facilitation reforms to improve their competitiveness and investment attraction.
The Secretariat’s detailed report contains extensive information on the overall business environment of the Member reviewed for the review period, including its macroeconomic environment, its legal and regulatory framework for trade and investment and trade policies and practices by measure and by sector. As such, trade policy review documents are often rich initial sources of information for businesses and investors interested in doing business or investing in a particular economy.
Once Trinidad & Tobago submits its replies within a month’s time to any follow up questions raised during the meeting, the Trade Policy Review will have been successfully concluded.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international 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.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may be affiliated from time to time.