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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr14/07)
23 April 2014
Third World Network  

Preparatory Committee begins legal review of TF Agreement
Published in SUNS #7784 Monday 14 April 2014
 
Geneva, 11 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this week began a legal review of the text of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, during the meetings of the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation on 7, 8 and 9 April.
 
The Trade Facilitation (TF) Agreement was adopted by Ministers at the ninth session of the WTO Ministerial Conference held in Bali, Indonesia, last December.
 
The Bali Ministerial Conference, by its Decision of 7 December 2013, concluded the negotiation of an Agreement on Trade Facilitation "subject to legal review for rectifications of a purely formal character that do not affect the substance of the Agreement."
 
The Ministerial Conference also established the Preparatory Committee, tasked in particular to conduct the legal review of the TF Agreement, receive notifications of Category A commitments, and draw up a Protocol of Amendment 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 also 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]."
 
According to trade officials, the three days of meetings of the Preparatory Committee resulted in about a fifth of the TF text being cleaned. This included the preamble and the first six of the 13 articles in Section I of the Agreement, trade officials added.
 
An entire week of meetings has been scheduled at the end of this month to try and complete the review.
 
Trade officials said that during the meetings this week, some members said that they were introduced to the concept of "serial" or "Oxford" commas, while others complained about spending too much time arguing about the use of commas instead of focusing on more important issues.
 
Trade officials explained that the aim of the legal review is to try to make the text consistent, uniform, more accurate and less ambiguous, and that this would be achieved with rectifications that must be of a "purely formal character", without altering the core of the text.
 
Several members proposed changes and explained the rationale behind these requested changes.
 
According to trade officials, the Committee assessed if the rectifications meant a substantial change, or not, of the original text.
 
The golden rule is that when there is no consensus, the Bali text stands, and in the majority of cases so far, the Bali text was adopted as final, trade officials said.
 
Trade officials cited some examples of changes that members had suggested: the use, or not, of capital letters; the numbering of the different articles and sections or subsections; the use of hyphenation, or not; and the use of the words affirming or reaffirming, import or importation, products or goods, governments or members, plural or singular, etc.
 
Trade officials recalled the Chair of the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Esteban B. Conejos Jr of the Philippines, as saying back in February that the Preparatory Committee should finish its work on the legal review by the end of April. (See SUNS #7751 dated 26 February 2014.)

 


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