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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar14/01)
5 March 2014
Third World Network  

Work plan presented at Trade Facilitation committee
Published in SUNS #7751 dated 26 February 2014
 
Geneva, 25 Feb (Kanaga Raja) -- The new Chair of the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation, at an informal meeting on Monday, presented a work plan and a schedule of forthcoming meetings of the committee.
 
At its first meeting held on 31 January, the Preparatory Committee had elected Ambassador Esteban B. Conejos Jr of the Philippines as its chairman.
 
Pursuant to the Bali Ministerial Decision of 7 December 2013 relating to the new Agreement on Trade Facilitation, the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation under the General Council was established by the Bali Ministerial Conference "to perform such functions as may be necessary to ensure the expeditious entry into force of the Agreement and to prepare for the efficient operation of the Agreement upon its entry into force."
 
According to the Decision: "In particular, the Preparatory Committee shall conduct the legal review of the Agreement ... receive notifications of Category A commitments, and draw up a Protocol of Amendment (the "Protocol") to insert the Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement."
 
[Category A contains provisions that a developing country Member or a least developed country Member designates for implementation upon entry into force of this Agreement, or in the case of a least developed country Member within one year after entry into force.]
 
The Ministerial Decision had further stated: "The General Council shall meet no later than 31 July 2014 to annex to the Agreement notifications of Category A commitments, to adopt the Protocol drawn up by the Preparatory Committee, and to open the Protocol for acceptance until 31 July 2015. The Protocol shall enter into force in accordance with Article X: 3 of the WTO Agreement [upon acceptance by two thirds of the members]." (See SUNS #7735 dated 4 February
2014.)
 
According to trade officials, at the informal meeting of the Preparatory Committee on Monday, Members voiced their support for the work plan and the schedule of future meetings of the Committee.
 
The work plan for the upcoming months is to comprise three elements:
 
* Conduct a legal review of rectifications of a "purely formal character" that do not affect the substance of the Trade Facilitation Agreement;
 
* Draw up a Protocol of Amendment to insert the Trade Facilitation Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement; and
 
* Receive category A notifications, the measures that developing country members will designate for implementation upon entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (the LDCs having a further year to implement them).
 
According to trade officials, Members agreed in principle (they are expected to formally agree at a formal meeting of the Preparatory Committee on 6 March) to work in sequence.
 
Hence, work will commence with the legal review, and when this is completed, Members will discuss the text of the Protocol of Amendment, trade officials added.
 
According to trade officials, on account of their limitations, small delegations insisted on the need to not discuss these issues in parallel.
 
Some of these delegations also asked for financial help to be provided in order for capital-based officials to be also present.
 
Concerning the legal review, the Preparatory Committee Chair explained that this has to be of rectifications of a "purely formal manner" that cannot change the substance of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
 
In case of disagreement over the changes, the Bali approved text will be final, he added.
 
According to trade officials, Ambassador Conejos Jr gave some examples of the changes to be made as: numbering of paragraphs, the use or not of capital letters; grammatical changes like semicolons or commas; and consistent use of terminology.
 
However, some delegations said that this review has to be careful and detailed, and has to go beyond these examples, since the pressure of time had produced a "rush" agreement in which some elements are not clear.
 
According to trade officials, the US said that the legal review should not last longer than three months.
 
China said that the work related to Trade Facilitation is one of the priorities of the WTO for 2014.
 
The Chair said that for the legal review, Members are urged to submit their contributions before the end of March so that they can finish this task swiftly, ideally no later than by the end of April.
 
As for the schedule of meetings, according to trade officials, an open-ended formal session of the Preparatory Committee will be held on 6 March to formally adopt the work plan agreed upon (on Monday) and to commence the substantive work.
 
According to the Chair, subsequent meetings will be held on a regular basis ensuring appropriate time for preparation between sessions and respecting the capacity constraints of small delegations.

 


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