Category Archives: trade facilitation

WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement: Why is it important for Caribbean Small States?

Alicia Nicholls

History was made on February 22nd when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) finally came into force. Coming into effect some four years after its conclusion at the WTO’s 9th Ministerial held in Bali, Indonesia in 2013, the TFA is a momentous achievement for the world, but also a plus for Caribbean small States which, like other developing countries, stand to benefit the most from the Agreement’s full implementation. Indeed, WTO economists estimate that full implementation of the TFA “could reduce [global] trade costs by an average of 14.3% and boost global trade by up to $1 trillion per year.”

Economic growth was one of the three broad themes discussed at the 28th Intersessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held in Georgetown, Guyana last week. Trade, both intra- and extra-regional, is an important contributor to economic growth, employment and poverty reduction. CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin Larocque recalled that the Community “has identified the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as the best vehicle to promote our overall economic growth and development”.

However, despite trade accounting for between 54-135% of Caribbean countries’ GDP according to World Bank data, the region’s share in global trade has been on a decline. Export performance and investment attraction remain lacklustre. Market and product diversification remain limited. Moreover, according to the last Caribbean Trade and Investment Report published in 2010, although intra-CARICOM merchandise trade was gaining momentum, it still only comprised “a minute portion of total CARICOM trade”.

Trade Facilitation can improve Caribbean trade

There is no one factor which explains the region’s declining trade performance or the still limited intra-CARICOM trade. For instance, a 2015 Compete Caribbean study noted that except for three countries, customs and trade regulations were found not to be a significant obstacle for doing business. With regard to intra-regional trade, high transportation costs remain one of the biggest barriers. However, with regard to extra-regional trade, a 2013 World Bank Report highlighted the low customs performance of Caribbean countries’ despite their high trade openness.  Another World Bank report noted that port handling charges in the Caribbean “can be two to three times higher than in similar ports in other regions”.

Unnecessarily burdensome border procedures and costly border fees make it difficult for exporters to access other markets, even where trade agreements or preferential arrangements exist. This is made even more difficult in cases where customs and other administrative procedures are opaque and rely largely on paper-based processes as opposed to electronic payments and e-documents. While large firms can invest the time, human and financial resources in navigating complex border rules and procedures in other markets, small-and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)’s often lack this luxury. Add in a foreign language, and it gets even more complicated. Improving trade facilitation can help boost Caribbean countries’ competitiveness, while facilitating policies and support structures can assist Caribbean firms’ access to regional and international markets. After all, States do not trade, firms do.

The TFA addresses one of the biggest constraints of SMEs seeking to do business internationally through the simplification, harmonisation and modernisation of customs procedures, while also fostering transparency and reducing transaction costs. The TFA includes provisions aimed at facilitating the release and clearance of goods through customs, requires States to publish rules and procedures and to establish contact points for enquiries, facilitates border agency cooperation, provides procedures for appeal and review and disciplines for fees and penalties, inter alia.

Developed countries have committed to implementing all of the provisions of the Agreement upon its entry into force, which means accessing those markets should be easier at least from a customs standpoint. Like other WTO developing country and Least Developed Country (LDC) Member States, Caribbean countries’ implementation of the TFA will be based on their ability to do so. Member States are allowed to schedule their commitments for the Agreement’s provisions into three categories: A, B, C, with category A commitments being those which the Member State can implement upon the Agreement’s entry into force (or within one year of entry into force for an LDC). Importantly for Caribbean countries, they will also have access to the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility which was established to assist developing countries and LDCs in their implementation efforts.

In a world with increasingly globalised supply chains, the smooth flow of trade across borders is important for improving Caribbean countries’ competitiveness and ability to participate in Global Value Chains (GVCs). Implementing the reforms pursuant to the TFA can also be beneficial for intra-regional trade, through the harmonisation of customs procedures.

Trade facilitation has other benefits as well, as noted in the WTO study on this issue. An improved trade and investment climate increases the attractiveness of a country for foreign direct investors. Moreover, transparent customs procedures reduce the opportunity for customs fraud and corruption, and improves revenue collection. It should be noted that not only are foreign direct investment inflows critical for Caribbean economies, but customs and other import taxes remain an important revenue source for many Caribbean governments.

Trade Facilitation Measures in the Caribbean

The encouraging news is that several Caribbean countries have begun trade facilitation reforms, including improvements in port infrastructure and simplification of customs procedures in recent years. As was noted in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report – 2017, Antigua & Barbuda removed the requirement of a tax compliance certificate for import customs clearance, while Grenada streamlined its import document submission procedures.  Haiti has allowed the submission of supporting documents online under its SYDONIA electronic data interchange system.

Trinidad & Tobago was among the first countries to ratify the TFA, while Belize, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and Dominica have also ratified the Agreement. Trinidad & Tobago (in regards to advance rulings) and the Dominican Republic (has not yet ratified the TFA) and Jamaica (authorised traders) are among several countries which have been identified as case studies in the implementation of trade facilitation measures.

With the help of a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Barbados (which has not yet ratified the TFA) has introduced an Electronic Single Window, part of a wider competitiveness programme. Through its Global Logistics Initiative, Jamaica is seeking to take advantage of its location in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to become the premier logistics node within the Americas. However, in light of increased competition from other parts of the world, particularly for global investment flows, there is the need for the region to increase the pace of its trade facilitation reforms.

What is next?

Given the benefits that the at-the-border and behind-the-border reforms pursuant to the TFA can have for regional SMEs and for facilitating Caribbean trade, it is hoped that other Caribbean countries will ratify the Agreement. For those which have not yet done so, ratification of the Agreement could serve as a powerful signal to investors of their commitment to trade and business facilitation.

Caribbean countries should move expeditiously to develop and implement national strategies for trade facilitation. This would involve assessing their country’s readiness to implement the various provisions of the TFA through identifying capacity gaps and implementation needs, on which basis they will categorise the provisions and make their notifications. Implementation capacity, of course, varies from one country to another. Caribbean countries should also continue to make use of technical and financial assistance and capacity building support for the implementation of the measures.

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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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.

St. Vincent & the Grenadines ratifies WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement; Four more ratifications to go

Source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

On January 9, 2017, the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent & the Grenadines became the 106th country to ratify the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). Only four more ratifications are needed in order to bring the Agreement into force (two-thirds of the WTO membership, i.e. 110 members).

The first multilateral trade agreement to be agreed since the establishment of the WTO in 1994, the Trade Facilitation Agreement was concluded at the Bali Ministerial in 2013. It aims, in a nutshell, to speed up the process of the movement of goods across  national borders.

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.

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.

WTO economists in the World Trade Report 2015 estimated that the Agreement would lower members’ trade costs by an estimated 14.3% on average. So far besides St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the following CARICOM countries have ratified the TFA: Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana,  Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and Dominica.

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.

 

 

World Economic Forum Releases Global Enabling Trade Index 2016; Caribbean countries continue to lag

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation released the 2016 edition of the Enabling Trade Report today November 30, 2016. Singapore topped the ranking for the 5th time in a row and was in the top 3 for 5 of the 7 pillars.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile was the top economy and led in all but 2 pillars. With a rank of 21st out of 136 economies, Chile was also the highest ranked emerging economy on the index. According to the WEF, the two main findings from this edition of the index were (1) a large part of the world is still excluded from globalization, and (2) some of the world’s largest economies offer limited market access. Another major finding is that the ASEAN market has become more accessible than European Union (EU) and the United States markets.

Caribbean countries’ performance 

Only three Caribbean economies were included on this year’s index: Dominican Republic (78), Jamaica (89) and Trinidad & Tobago (106).

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic ranked 78 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 77 out of 134 in 2014 and has not as yet ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Dominican Republic’s best performance was on Pillar 4: Availability and Quality of Transport Infrastructure where it ranked 54th. Its worst was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 95th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were tariffs/non-tariff barriers, burdensome import procedures, high cost or delays caused by domestic transportation, corruption at the border and high cost or delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, identifying potential markets and buyers, high cost or delays caused by domestic transport, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Jamaica

Jamaica ranked 89 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 88 out of 134 economies in 2014 and has ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Jamaica’s best performance was on Pillar 2: Foreign Market Access where it ranked 34th. Its worst was on Pillar 5: Availability and Quality of Transport Services where it ranked 108th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were burdensome import procedures, tariffs/non-tariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft, and domestic technical requirements and standards. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were identifying potential markets and buyers, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago ranked 106 out of 136 in 2016, sliding from 93 out of 134 in 2014 and ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Trinidad & Tobago’s best performance was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 57th. Its worst performance was on Pillar 7: Operating Environment where it ranked 119th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were: burdensome import procedures, tariffs/nontariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft and high cost/delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors for exporting were: identifying potential markets and buyers, access to trade finance, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices and technical requirements and standards abroad.

About the Index

The Enabling Trade Index ranks economies according to “their capacity to facilitate the flow of goods over borders and their destination”.The index is useful as countries seek to implement the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement concluded in 2013 at the Bali Ministerial. It helps countries to see where they are excelling and where there is a room for improvement. It is therefore disappointing that more Caribbean countries are unable to be ranked.

On this year’s index, one hundred and thirty-six (136) economies, accounting for 98 percent of world GDP and 98.3 percent of world merchandise trade, were ranked on seven pillars: domestic market, foreign market, efficiency, transparency and border, availability and quality of transportation infrastructure, availability and quality of transport services, availability and use of ICTs and operating environment.

The full report may be accessed here.

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.