New York (ABC Live): WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement: A major milestone for the global trading system was reached in early 2017 when the first multilateral deal concluded in the 21-year history of the WTO entered into force. Following ratification of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) by Rwanda, Oman, Chad and Jordan in February 2017, the WTO obtained the necessary number of acceptances from the WTO’s 164 members for the Agreement to take effect.
The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement aims to streamline, simplify and standardise customs procedures. By easing the flow of goods across borders, it will help to cut trade costs around the world. Full implementation of the WTO Facilitation Agreement is forecast to slash WTO members’ trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent. The Agreement is expected to reduce the time needed to import goods by over a day and a half and to export goods by almost two days, representing a reduction of 47 per cent and 91 per cent respectively over the current average. By 2030, the Agreement could add 2.7 percentage points per year to world trade growth and more than half a percentage point per year to world GDP growth. The Agreement is unique in that it allows developing countries to set their own timetable for implementation depending on their capacity to do so. A Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility was created to help ensure these countries receive the assistance needed to reap the full benefits of the TFA. Another major milestone was the entry into force of the amendment to the WTO’s intellectual property (TRIPS) agreement, securing for developing countries a legal pathway to access affordable medicines under WTO rules. It is the first time since the launch of the WTO in 1995 that a WTO accord has been amended. The amendment came into force in January 2017 after the protocol containing it was accepted by the necessary two thirds of WTO members. The amendment makes permanent a mechanism to ease poorer WTO members’ access to affordable generic medicines produced in other countries.
Argentina’s offer to host the 11 th Ministerial Conference (MC11) was accepted by the General Council, the WTO’s highest decision‑making body in Geneva. The Council agreed that the conference would be held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires. Argentina will be the first South American country to host the biennial event. Liberia and Afghanistan became the 163rd and 164th members of the WTO in July 2016. Later in the year, the General Council agreed to start WTO membership talks for Somalia and Timor‑Leste. The WTO’s other councils and committees continued to meet regularly throughout the year to ensure that WTO agreements and rules are being properly implemented. The WTO also continued its trade monitoring role.
The latest trade monitoring report showed a slight decrease in the number of new trade-restrictive measures introduced by WTO members. Between mid-October 2015 and mid-October 2016, an average of 15 such measures were introduced per month compared with the recent peak of 20 measures per month in 2015. Of the 2,978 trade-restrictive measures recorded for WTO members since 2008, 740 had been removed by mid-October 2016. The WTO’s Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) reviewed the trade policies and practices of 23 WTO members in 2016, bringing the total number of trade policy reviews to 452 since the TPRB was established in 1989.