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WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

New training opportunity for the private sector

WTO members reached consensus on the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013.

The TFA contains twelve articles regarding Trade Facilitation and Customs Cooperation in Section I, ten articles on special and differential treatment for developing countries and least-developed countries in Section II and two articles on institutional arrangements and final provisions in Section III. The TFA deals almost entirely with Customs-related topics.

Section I

Contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit. It clarifies and improves the relevant articles (V, VIII and X) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994. It also sets out provisions for Customs cooperation. Section I is the key part of the Agreement which contains the TF measures, some of which are usually called “best endeavor” or “best efforts” provisions. These include phrases such as: “Members… may”, “to the extent practicable/possible”, “whenever practicable”, “encouraged to”, “as appropriate”, “shall endeavor” etc. Even though all the measures in the Agreement are binding on all Members (Article 24.2), “best endeavor” provisions do provide a certain level of flexibility in implementation.

The main body of the WCO Implementation Guidance deals in more detail with Section I and provides, Article by Article, the legal text, an overview, related WCO instruments and tools and further guidance as well as Members’ practices. Furthermore, the WCO Analysis of Section I complements this guidance with a more in-depth analysis for each of the Articles contained therein.

Section II

Covers singular provisions allowing developing and least-developed countries (LDCs) to regulate when they will apply individual provisions of the Agreement and to categorize provisions that they will only be able to apply upon the receipt of technical assistance and support for capacity building. Both developing and least developed Members of the WTO may determine the category for each of the technical measures under the Agreement, as follows:

Category A: provisions that the member will implement by the time the Agreement enters into force (or in the case of a least-developed country within one year after entry into force);

Category B: provisions that the member will implement after a transitional period following the entry into force of the Agreement; and

Category C: provisions that the member will implement on a date after a transitional period following the entry into force of the Agreement and requiring the acquisition of assistance and support for capacity building.

Section III

Contains provisions on the establishment of a permanent committee on trade facilitation at the WTO and the requirement for WTO Members to have in place a national committee to facilitate for domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of the Agreement. In addition, it sets out a number of final provisions, such as the possibility of regional approaches to TFA implementation.

National Committees on Trade Facilitation