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Caricom: Implementing the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

BY Elizabeth Morgan

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Facilitation, commonly known as the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), is the success of the Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations. After several years of exploratory work, in 2004 it was decided to negotiate this agreement.

Of the new issues which were proposed for negotiations, trade facilitation was the easiest to be accepted by WTO developing country members, who were also members of the World Customs Organization (WCO). Many of these countries, including Caricom countries, were already modernising their Customs procedures. Jamaica began its Customs modernisation through the Public Sector Transformation and Modernization Programme which commenced in 1996.

The TFA aims to simplify Customs procedures by clarifying and improving aspects of Articles V (freedom of transit), VIII (fees and formalities related to export and imports), and X (transparency, publication of laws and regulations) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and enhancing technical assistance and development support to developing countries as well as providing special and differential treatment (S&DT). The agreement, once fully implemented, should remove red tape and reduce the costs of trading among countries. For technical and financial assistance, a Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility has been established.

The TFA entered into force on February 22, 2017, when two-thirds of the WTO membership ratified it. To date, 11 Caricom members have ratified. They are Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Guyana, Grenada, St Lucia, Jamaica, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, St Kitts/Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. At least one of the required notifications was submitted. Developed countries will implement the TFA immediately, while developing countries, applying S&DT, will implement on a schedule as provided in their notifications. Donors will also provide technical assistance and support as required by the developing countries particularly the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The TFA is now into its second year of implementation.

The WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation was established to review the TFA's operation and implementation. Each member state is required to establish a national TFA committee to oversee implementation.

Regional level

At the regional level, the Caricom Secretariat has been working with member states on the implementation of the TFA. The Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) felt that it was necessary for the region to adopt a coordinated approach to FTA implementation and mandated that a Regional Trade Facilitation Committee be established. Caricom facilitated the preparation of a Regional TFA Strategy. The secretariat has also focused on increasing awareness of the agreement among the regional public and private sectors through the convening of workshops and seminars sponsored by the WTO, Commonwealth, European Union, WCO, and other donors. A regional capacity-building workshop was held in St Lucia, January 28 to February 1, 2019, targeting representatives from border agencies and the private sector.

National level

Jamaica established its national committee, the Trade Facilitation Task Force, in 2015. This task force emerged from the existing committee which had coordinated Jamaica's participation in the negotiations. It is chaired by Patricia Francis, and the deputy chair is the Commissioner of Customs Velma Ricketts-Walker. The membership includes public sector bodies involved in import and export regulations and private sector representatives. The coordination of public sector border agencies, Customs, public health, veterinary, plant quarantine, food storage and infestation, and other standards setting and regulatory bodies is necessary.

Through the Trade Facilitation Task Force, and with assistance from donors such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), it is reported that initiatives being undertaken include:

• full implementation of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA);

• streamlining inspections at ports of entry;

• creating a paperless environment for permits, inspections and release of goods;

• development of an electronic single window for trade; and

• creation of a Trade Information Portal.

The aim is to promote the efficient flow of exports and imports as Jamaica looks towards improving overall trade flows and becoming a logistics hub in the northern Caribbean.

The overall success of the TFA will be measured by the level of implementation by all WTO members and the extent to which donors honour their commitment to provide required technical assistance and support for capacity-building.

As the second year of implementation closed, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reviewed implementation and pointed out that 22 WTO members were still to ratify and many still to make notifications and establish national committees. It seems that there remain two Caricom countries to ratify and notifications to be completed. The region has made implementation of the TFA a priority and some progress was made. Jamaica's Trade Facilitation Task Force is urging border agencies to embrace the reform agenda and move expeditiously to implement.

With talk of WTO reform and the US commitment to the organization uncertain, it remains to be seen how much further progress will be made in the WTO to implement the TFA by February 2020 as year three of implementation ends.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.


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