Mission Report

Mission report

(Mission to the WTO TFNG meeting of 13 March and related meetings)

14 March 2007

Toni Matsudaira

The Secretariat was invited to the WTO Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group (TFNG) meeting of 12-13 March 2007, in Geneva. Due to the calendar conflict with the revised Kyoto Convention Management Committee meeting of 12 March, the Secretariat attended the WTO meeting only on 13 March. Accordingly, the brief below in relation to the TFNG session of 12 March is based upon the debriefing by the WTO Secretariat to me.

On 12 March, the WTO members welcomed the new Chairman of the TFNG, H.E., Mr. Sperisen-Yurt (Guatemalan Ambassador to the WTO). The TFNG started negotiations on S&D proposals (TN/TF/W/137 and 142) and, then, negotiated on the proposals on GATT Articles V, VIII and X. There were two new documents from Korea (TN/TF/W/138/Rev.1: Single Window; and TN/TF/W/139/Rev.1: Release time of goods); both documents contained minor change from the original texts and were not completely new. There were lively exchanges of interventions. Nevertheless, as there were no substantially new documents, one felt that the WTO members were apparently making a circle around the spot. Due to the calendar conflict with the WCO TF meetings in Brussels, there were less Customs presence in Geneva than usual, but still several delegations had Customs presences, e.g., China, EC, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa and Zambia.

On 13 March, the TFNG discussed the proposals on Customs Co-operation. There were exchanges of interventions between developing countries that were pro-WTO commitment on information exchange and developed countries that were not enthusiastic to have a WTO commitment on this issue. Most of the exchanges on the information exchange issue were quite familiar to the WCO as they were repeating what they have said during the Johannesburg Convention negotiations in the WCO. One developed WTO member indicated that there could be a slight chance, after solving many questions, to consider a WTO provision on this issue with sunset clause. After the meeting, I asked the sponsoring WTO member why it did not refer to any of the WCO instruments on this issue. Yet, there was no clear answer to my question.

The negotiations on Customs co-operation was followed by the issue of TA/CB in this area. The WTO Secretariat recalled its proposal on WTO TF negotiation Needs Assessment national workshops. She shared the WTO Secretariat’s observation that the results of the Zambia site testing mission were excellent. It said that 46 WTO members were requesting the assistance in this regard. She reported that one WTO member had contributed money to the WTO voluntary fund for trade facilitation negotiations. The positive observation of the site testing in Zambia was fully supported by the Zambian Ambassador. The World Bank took the floor and commended the WCO’s contribution to the designing of the “Self Assessment Guide” as well as its contribution to the conduct of the National Workshop. The Secretariat took the floor and, among other things, it stressed that (1) the WCO was rich in knowledge on border procedures and trade facilitation measures; (2) it was also rich in experience of Customs reform and modernization projects in several developing countries; (3) two Secretariats have been working closely and seeks higher synergies in this area; and (4) the WCO was willing to continue supporting the process and ready to work with the WTO in the phase of conduct of WTO national workshops on TF Needs Assessment. There was no intervention on this agenda from the WTO members.

With respect to the next TFNG meeting, Chairman proposed 30 April - 1 May, then 6 - 7 June.

The Secretariat also participated in an informal technical workshop organized by 7 WTO members (Barbados; Hong Kong China; India; Korea; Norway; Switzerland; and Turkey) on 13 March. It attracted over 100 WTO members. This was the WTO member-driven event. The Secretariat, together with the WTO Secretariat, was invited by them as audience. The objective of this Workshop was to deepen the understanding on the proposals and cross cutting issues related to GATT Article X. The WTO members explained proposals on the negotiation table and shared their analyses with the other WTO members. Each presentation was followed by a series of Q&As with other WTO members. At the session of “use of international standards”, the Secretariat argued that: the WCO instruments were for only Customs while the scope of the WTO negotiations was much broader; the consistency and complementary relationship between the two organizations’ instruments must continue sought in the negotiations. It then posed a question: when non-compliance of “use of international standards” is due to a lack of implementation capacity, whether or not the WTO will arrange the necessary TA/CBs in accordance with their S&D proposals. No WTO member came back to me on the last question due to the time constraint.

The proactive member-driven activities in the WTO, including informal technical workshops, are enviously excellent and appears the driving force of setting new standards and rules.