Tag Archives: World Trade Organisation

WTO: Trade tensions could sabotage global trade growth momentum

Alicia Nicholls

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has predicted that global merchandise trade growth will remain strong in 2018 and 2019, but has cautioned that this momentum is contingent on the policy choices taken by governments.

This forecast was disclosed by WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo, in a press conference held last week. According to Mr. Azevedo, global merchandise trade grew an estimated 4.7% in 2017 and is forecast by WTO economists to grow 4.4% in 2018 and by a more modest, 4.0% in 2019.

He noted that trade volume growth in 2017 was the most robust since 2011, with Asia being responsible for much of the recovery. He noted that South and Central America and the Caribbean made a positive contribution for the first time since 2013 due to Brazil’s economic recovery. The ratio of trade growth to GDP growth will be slightly lower in 2018 at 1.4 in 2018, down from 1.5 in 2017. Commercial services trade experienced strong growth in 2017 after two years of lacklustre growth.

The escalating global trade tensions, particularly between the US and China, cast a shadow over the forecast, as Director-General Azevedo strongly cautioned that continued positive trade growth could be “quickly undermined” if Governments turned to trade restrictive policies and engaged in retaliation. Mr. Azevedo pointedly stated that “a cycle of trade retaliation is the last thing the world economy needs”, noting that trade tensions may already be impacting business confidence and investment decisions. He further warned that missteps on trade and monetary policy “could undermine economic growth and confidence”.

In an appeal to WTO Member States to resort to the rules-based system as opposed to unilateral action, Mr. Azevedo added that “pressing trade problems confronting WTO Members is best tackled through collective action”.

The full WTO press release may be viewed here.

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.



ACP Trade Ministers demand ‘concrete outcomes’ at upcoming WTO MC11

Alicia Nicholls

Trade ministers and other representatives from the 79-member Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries added their voices to demands for ‘concrete outcomes’ at the upcoming World Trade Organisation’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (WTO MC11). Preparations for the upcoming WTO MC11 was one of several topics discussed by ACP trade representatives at their 20th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee meeting held in Brussels on 18-19 October last week.

According to the press release from the meeting, the ACP representatives  reiterated the need for a development-friendly and robust MC11 work programme which recognized differences between developed, developing and least developed countries and whose outcomes were aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Reaffirming their commitment to the multilateral trading system, they also called for “inclusiveness, consensus and transparency in all WTO decision-making processes, as well as careful framing of any reform evaluation of the WTO to ensure that the interests of all countries are protected”. Guyana was chosen to be the spokesperson for the ACP Group at the Ministerial which will take place in Buenos Aires December 10-13, 2017.

In a speech delivered at the ACP meeting, the WTO’s Director General, Roberto Azevedo, acknowledged the important role ACP countries have played in shaping the WTO’s work.

Mr. Azevedo gave a brief status report on the WTO’s preparatory work for the upcoming Ministerial Conference, lauding the ACP countries for being at the “forefront” of these discussions. He noted that although there were some positive signs, the many gaps to bridge meant that there was still much work ahead with respect to the negotiations.  He further reiterated that in order to achieve concrete results in Buenos Aires, “more focused engagement and negotiation will be required to quickly identify areas of convergence”.

In the meeting which was chaired by the Hon. Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, ACP trade representatives also focused on several  other topics of importance to ACP countries’ trade, including enhancing trade among ACP countries and trade issues with the European Union (EU).

The ACP press release also notes that ACP representatives have committed to “increased integration, unity and solidarity” among ACP countries, including taking more “joint ACP approaches to trade and development”.

The press release from the ACP can be read here.

The WTO Director-General’s full speech can be read 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.

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.

Jamaica ratifies Trade Facilitation Agreement; WTO DG Visits Jamaica

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica has become the  67th member country of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on January 19th this year. Jamaica is the sixth country of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to have ratified the TFA. The other CARICOM countries which have already ratified are Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana, St. Lucia and Grenada.

The TFA was concluded at the Bali Ministerial in 2013 and seeks to cut the red tape and reduce the transaction costs and delays in the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders through the harmonisation, simplification and acceleration of customs procedures.  The TFA, which the WTO predicts to increase global merchandise exports by up to 1 trillion by per year, will come into force once two-thirds of the WTO’s membership ratifies the Agreement. Earlier this month Seychelles became the 66th WTO member to ratify, while Mali this week became the 68th member and 10th African country to do so, bringing the total number of ratifications to 68.

The announcement of Jamaica’s ratification comes on the heels of the WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo’s official visit to Jamaica this week. Jamaica is currently the chair of the CARICOM Group in the WTO and has been very active in the WTO negotiations. In his speech at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus in Jamaica, Director General Azevedo lauded Jamaica’s leadership and participation in the multilateral trade process from as early as the days of GATT, particularly in light of the country’s relatively small size. The Director General will also be visiting other CARICOM countries.

The ratification by Jamaica is a welcomed development and it is hoped more CARICOM states will follow suit. My article on the benefits of the TFA for small island developing states can be accessed here.

The full text of the Director General’s speech in Jamaica 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.


St. Lucia and Grenada ratify WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

Alicia Nicholls

Just a week shy of the commencement of the WTO’s 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, St. Lucia and Grenada became the first states of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union (ECCU) to ratify the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The TFA, which has the potential to increase global merchandise exports by up to $1 trillion per annum (according to the World Trade Report 2015), aims to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit and to provide measures for effective cooperation between customs authorities. It is the first WTO agreement to link implementation to countries’ capacity to implement.  In November 2014, WTO members adopted a Protocol of Amendment to insert the TFA Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement. Both countries have already notified their Category A commitments pursuant to the Agreement.

St. Lucia and Grenada also join Trinidad & Tobago, Belize and Guyana to make it a total of five CARICOM states which have ratified the Agreement so far. Late last month Guyana became the 53rd state to ratify.

For the TFA to enter into force, ratification by two-thirds of the WTO’s membership of 162 is required.This week Cote de Ivoire and Kenya also ratified the Agreement, becoming the fifth and sixth African countries to do so. This brings the number of ratifications to 57 states, which is more than half the number needed for the Agreement to enter into force.

The ratification by St. Lucia and Grenada are a welcomed development and it is hoped more CARICOM states will follow suit. My article on the benefits of the TFA for small island developing states can 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. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


WTO General Council Agrees Draft Ministerial Decision on Small Economies

Alicia Nicholls

On November 30th, the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed on a draft ministerial decision on small economies which affirms WTO Members’ commitment to the work programme on small economies which was adopted in 2002.

The Draft Decision

Under the Draft Decision agreed to this week, WTO members meeting as the General Council have:

  • Affirmed their commitment to the Work Programme on Small Economies
  • Taken note of the work carried out since 2013, including on the challenges and opportunities faced by small economies in linking into global value chains in trade in goods and services
  • Instructed the CTD to continue its work in Dedicated Session under the overall responsibility of the General Council.
  • Instructed the Dedicated Session to consider in further detail the various submissions that have been received to date, examine any additional proposals that Members might wish to submit and, where possible, and within its mandate, make recommendations to the General Council on any of these proposals.
  • Indicated that the General Council will direct relevant subsidiary bodies to frame responses to the trade-related issues identified by the CTD with a view to making recommendations for action.
  • Instructed the WTO Secretariat to provide relevant information and factual analysis for discussion among Members in the CTD’s Dedicated Session
  • Requested the WTO Secretariat to also conduct work on the challenges small economies experience in their efforts to reduce trade costs, particularly in the area of trade facilitation.
  • Mandated the CTD in Dedicated Session to continue monitoring the progress of the small economy proposals in WTO bodies and in negotiating groups

The Draft Decision has been forwarded to the Ministerial Conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya later this month for adoption by the WTO ministers.

Brief background on Small Economies 

The Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) do not form an official sub-category of WTO members but are one of the negotiating coalitions in the WTO which have been active in the negotiations on agriculture, NAMA and fisheries rules.

These small states, which  account for only a small fraction of world trade, pushed for WTO recognition of the unique  challenges they face in participating in world trade because of their small size, concentration of exports, distance from major markets, lack of economies of scale and limited trade capacity. They also expressed concern about what they saw was an erosion of their policy space.

The countries which have been spearheading the SVE initiative are small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific and smaller Central and South America nations like Honduras, El Salvador and Paraguay.

The Doha Ministerial Declaration of November 20, 2001, which provided the negotiating mandate for the Doha Development Agenda negotiations, provided for a work programme “to examine issues relating to the trade of small economies”. Paragraph 35 of the Declaration states the objective of the work programme is to:

frame responses to the trade-related issues identified for the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies into the multilateral trading system, and not to create a sub-category of WTO Members.

The Work Programme on small states is being done under the auspices of the General Council which instructed the Council on Trade and Development (CTD) in March  2002 to hold dedicated sessions  on the work programme and make periodic progress reports to the General Council, making the work programme on small states an agenda item of the General Council.

Under paragraph 41 of the Hong Kong Ministerial 2005 a two-pronged track was agreed where the CTD was instructed, under the General Council’s responsibility, to continue the work in the Dedicated Session and to monitor progress of the small economies’ proposals in the negotiating and other bodies. The aim of this was to be able to provide responses to the trade-related issues of small economies.

So far several Ministerial and General Council decisions have been taken and proposals by SVEs have been made in areas such as agriculture, industrial goods, service trade and trade facilitation. These decisions as well as proposals are routinely compiled by the WTO Secretariat to show what has been achieved under this agenda item so far. The text of the most recent WTO Secretariat compilation paper of October 16, 2015 may be found 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. Please note that the views expressed in this article are solely hers. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.