Trade Facilitation Agreement formally into WTO rule book

Date : 2014-11-28  | From : Xinhua

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday announced that the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) got rubber-stamped, being officially inserted into the rule book of WTO.

TFA INSERTED INTO WTO SYSTEM

This advance, which broke the about-four-month-old impasse on implementation of the Bali package reached last December at the WTO Ministerial Conference, was achieved after the consensus of all WTO members at a special meeting of General Council held this afternoon, the decision-making body of the world trade watchdog.

Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of WTO, told reporters after the meeting that the stalemate was resolved, and WTO members adopted a protocol of amendments of TFA to formally insert the new agreement into the WTO system.

Azevedo told reporters that the successful adoption of the related protocol kicked off the ratification process, and members will follow their own procedures to ratify the agreement and then hand to WTO the instrument of acceptance.

"This decision means TFA facility is now operational," said the WTO head.

TFA is a key pact included in the Bali package to bring about global reform of customs procedures to improve efficiency of cross-border trade.

The agreement, the first-ever multilateral pact sealed in WTO's nearly two-decade history, was regarded as breakthrough in multilateral trade negotiations, and was estimated to boost the world economy by the equivalent of 1 trillion U.S. dollars per year.

BREAKTHROUGH OF MONTHS-OLD STANDOFF

The issues at core that caused negotiations stalled for months were TFA and the public stock-holding for food security purposes.

As required by decisions adopted in Bali, WTO members must draft a Protocol of Amendments to make it legal before July 31 this year.

But this deadline was missed due to India's objection.

India has set conditions for signing the trade facilitation agreement: it must see more progress on a parallel agreement which would give it more freedom to subsidize and stockpile food grains.

Positive news on the front of overcoming the deadlock caused by India's unyielding stance were seen after an agreement reached between the South Asian country and U.S. earlier this month on public stockpiling of food, which paved the way for the full implementation of TFA, as highlighted by the both sides and WTO itself.

The protocol was originally scheduled to open for acceptance until July 2015. Then the TFA will enter into force once two-thirds of members have completed their domestic ratification process.

At the moment, no final words have been said on whether the second deadline will be abided by or not.

But the WTO chief noted that it would be very hard even "virtually impossible" for many members to clear their domestic procedures within that time limit.

TWO MORE DECISIONS AGREED

Apart from finally clinching the vital multilateral trade deal, WTO members also agreed on two other decisions at Thursday's meeting: food subsidies and stockpiling, the once sticking point that was also among the Bali decisions, and as well as the post-Bali work program on remaining Doha Development Agenda issues.

The first decision clarified that the "peace clause," which protects member states from being penalized for breaching their subsidy levels until a permanent solution is found on good security program issues, will remain in force till such a permanent solution is reached.

Moreover, it moved the target date to conclude related negotiations earlier to December 2015, way ahead of the previous deadline of 2017 set in Bali.

"If no solution is reached by this new target date, the peace clause will simply remain in place and in effect until negotiations do conclude and a permanent solution is adopted," said Azevedo.

As for the second on post-Bali work program, the deadline for mapping out the steps in pushing global trade and Doha round was pushed back to July 2015, instead of the original date scheduled for this year's December.

"IMPORTANT MOMENT FOR WTO"

The collapse of talks in summer had been commonly believed as a great blow to multilateral trade system and the confidence to WTO as a platform for multilateral negotiations.

Azevedo once warned the tumble at the first step to rubber-stamp TFA was a "setback" and the unsolved disagreement was having a "paralysing effect" on WTO's other projects.

The overcome of the standstill on Thursday after rounds of consultations is "a very important moment for the WTO," said Azevedo.

"By agreeing these three decisions we have put ourselves back in the game. We have put our negotiating work back on track, and we have given ourselves the chance to prepare the post-Bali work program," he told reporters.

"Crucially, during this process we have seen a renewed commitment to the multilateral system," Azevedo highlighted.

As decision-making in the WTO is based on consensus among all members, when asked about the shadow of doubts casted by the recent standoff caused by veto from a few members, Azevedo reiterated that "different perspectives are very significant" in decision-making process and consensus rule in WTO will never disappear.

"It is about how do we deliver fast, and deliver meaningful results still using the consensus rule," said he, adding that that was a question that members need to reflect on.