TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct07/10)

11 October 2007

WTO Trade Facilitation Group further discusses proposals
Published in SUNS 6338 dated 5 October 2007 
By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 4 Oct 2007

The WTO Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation held a three-day session ending Wednesday that discussed new and revised proposals on various elements relating to the group's mandate.

According to trade officials, although the original plan was to hold a week-long session beginning Monday, the meeting ended after three days.

On Monday, Chairman Ambassador Eduardo Ernesto Sperisen-Yurt of Guatemala told members that in the last round of negotiations, this format (of a longer period of meetings) allowed for more interactive discussions and enhanced participation from the capitals.

Members can also organize parallel sessions and seminars, the Chair added.

The Chair said that a concrete result was the revised proposals that emerged from the last session. "This capacity to produce tangible progress will be more crucial than ever," he said.

The mandate of the trade facilitation negotiations is "to clarify and improve relevant aspects of Articles V (Freedom of Transit), VIII (Fees and Formalities connected with Importation and Exportation) and X (Publication and Administration of Trade Regulations) of GATT 1994 with a view to further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit".

India presented a revision of its proposal (TN/TF/W/123/Rev. 1) on a cooperation mechanism for customs compliance in which it explained the changes that it made to the text to take other members' concerns on board.

The proposal, originally presented in July last year, calls for members to provide information and documents about specific import/export cases, if another member requests them.

The changes were made because of concerns over confidentiality and excessive burden (members routinely requesting information). India included a cap on the number of requests and a confidentiality requirement, among other changes.

According to trade officials, some members raised concerns on the judicial use of the information collected. Sri Lanka and South Africa asked to be added as co-sponsors of the document.

The Chair's informal consultations took up issues relating to technical assistance, capacity-building and special and differential treatment (S&D) matters, as well as on Articles V, VIII and X of the GATT.

Under technical assistance, capacity building and S&D matters, discussions took place on an implementation mechanism (proposals TN/TF/W/137, 142 and 147, which have been presented before).

According to trade officials, most of the discussion focused on how to determine whether a country has managed to build capacity in order to implement a commitment.

Some countries raised the concern that some proposed S&D provisions would give way for discretionary implementation, and even give members the possibility of deferring almost all their commitments.

According to trade officials, Trinidad and Tobago, on behalf of the core group of developing countries, defended the right that developing countries should have to self-determine when they will have achieved the capacity to implement commitments, in partnership with donors.

Egypt mentioned the issue of sovereignty, while India questioned how another member or body would be able to determine better than the member in question whether there is enough capacity to implement commitments. Lesotho (speaking for the LDC group), Nepal, Cuba, and Bangladesh supported this view.

Brazil and Switzerland defended a multilateral monitoring mechanism to oversee the implementation. Turkey urged members to aim for a middle point, saying that some degree of commitment has to be made.

The EC presented a paper on technical assistance and capacity building (TN/TF/W/149) that compiled all the development projects that relate to trade facilitation, both by the EC and by individual members.

All projects are demand-driven, the EC said, adding that development funding should continue to be channelled bilaterally.

Turkey made a presentation to clarify its proposal ((TN/TF/W/146, co-sponsored by Georgia) for a quota-free road transit regime. It said that quotas (number of trucks that can cross a border, determined by bilateral arrangements) limit trade, cause extra burden to traders and increase freight costs.

According to trade officials, some delegations said that the theme should be discussed in the services negotiations (Transportation Services).

The EC said that quota regimes are legitimate for environmental and capacity restriction reasons. Other delegations indicated that they could support the proposal, but also raised some issues.

Trade officials said that members also had an opportunity to comment on proposals regarding fees and formalities, which have all been considered in past meetings of the group.

On proposal W/131, calling for the use of international standards, some members said that this would be difficult to implement by developing countries.

On proposal W/138, presenting the idea of establishing a Single Window, many members raised questions and concerns (some proposing a "best efforts" base instead of mandatory commitment).

On proposal W/144, relating to expedited shipments, some members said that some provisions would be difficult to implement.

Japan presented revised versions of two proposals that it co-sponsored with different groups of members. In both cases, it reduced the strength of some commitments and deleted paragraphs in response to members' comments.

Proposal W/114/Rev. 1 (Japan, Mongolia and Switzerland) calls for the publication and availability of information.

According to trade officials, many members praised the proponents of the proposal for having their concerns reflected in the new paper (such as possibility for multiple enquiry points).

Barbados suggested the use of regional enquiry points, and welcomed the flexibility on the means of publication, instead of a commitment to make information available at a website. Turkey and others supported the idea of Internet publication as the only way to improve availability.

There were also other concerns raised such as the use of WTO official languages, the need for republication of court decisions, and the extent of information to be published.

Proposal W/115/Rev. 1 (Japan, Hong Kong China, Korea, Mongolia and Switzerland) calls for prior consultation on changes to trade regulations, and prior publication (before the new regulations or law come into force).

According to trade officials, some members thanked the proponents for including "exceptions" for prior publication or consultation, but said that doubts remain on what the exceptions would be.

Meanwhile, Mexico described the needs assessment seminar held with the help of the WTO. The secretariat said that 11 more members would have similar activities in 2007, and invited other members to schedule their needs assessment.

The next meeting of the group has been scheduled for early November.

Trade officials said that many members asked the Chair to hold informal consultations before that, particularly on the next steps with a view to accelerating the process.