TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May14/02)
14 May 2014
Third World Network  

Legal review of Trade Facilitation Agreement completed
Published in SUNS #7798 dated 7 May 2014

Geneva, 6 May (Kanaga Raja) - Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have completed the legal review of the text of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, following meetings last week of the Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation.

According to trade officials, Members are now ready to move on to the task of drawing up a Protocol of Amendment to insert the Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.

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 Ministerial Conference, by its Decision of 7 December 2013, concluded the negotiation of the TF Agreement "subject to legal review for rectifications of a purely formal character that do not affect the substance of the Agreement."

The Preparatory Committee, which was established by the Ministerial Conference, was tasked, among others, to draw up the Protocol of Amendment for the TF Agreement to be inserted into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.

According to the Ministerial Decision, the General Council is to 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 is to come into force upon acceptance by two-thirds of the Members.

(Category A contains provisions that a developing country Member or a least developed country Member designates for implementation upon entry into force of the TF Agreement, or in the case of a least developed country Member, within one year after entry into force.)

According to trade officials, the week of intense legal review by the Preparatory Committee was with respect to the TF Agreement's text in English.

Trade officials said that after the translations are completed, the text will be going to the capitals of both Spanish- and French-speaking countries where it will be assessed as to whether the inconsistencies that were corrected in the English text also apply to the text in these two other official languages of the WTO.

According to the Bali Ministerial Decision, rectifications are to be of "a purely formal character" that do not affect the substance of the Agreement.

Trade officials said that in the instance where disagreements arise over proposed changes, the Bali text would be final. The majority of the requested changes did not garner consensus, trade officials added.

The Chair of the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Esteban B. Conejos Jr of the Philippines, expressed happiness that Members had kept to the agreed "absolute deadline" of 2 May for the conclusion of the exercise.

According to trade officials, the Chair said that he would convene a special meeting of the Committee in the next couple of weeks, in order to adopt the TF text in the three official languages.

Work will then commence on the Protocol of Amendment at the next regular meeting of the Preparatory Committee.