WTO Secretariat organizes workshop on technical assistance in trade facilitation
Workshop on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building in Trade Facilitation
Three months ago, WTO Members requested the Secretariat to organize a forum that would allow all the relevant parties to exchange their views on the role of technical assistance and capacity building in trade facilitation. This request reflects two facts:
First, it underlines the importance Members attach to this subject. In a radically changed multilateral trading environment with tariff barriers gradually being reduced, governments have become increasingly aware of the importance of addressing non-tariff barriers to global trade. Both developed and developing countries more and more focus on trade facilitation issues as key impediments to trade and economic development.
The benefits of trade facilitation have been amply documented, be it in terms of simplifying and aligning procedures and documentation requirements, or in automating customs procedures with the ultimate objective of helping to cut costs and accelerate delivery of goods across borders.
More important than any study assessing the benefits of simplified trade procedures is the fact that many countries are actively pursuing steps to facilitate import and export transactions. The many national experience papers that Members have been discussing at the Council for Trade in Goods bear witness to Members' recognition that simplified and more transparent trade procedures benefit traders through time and money savings, manufacturers through cheaper and more reliable availability of intermediate products, consumers through lower prices, and last but not least, administrations through increased efficiency and enhanced control effectiveness.
This workshop offers a possibility to compare notes in that respect. Many countries are facing similar challenges in reforming and modernizing their trade administrations, and some may be in a position to offer solutions or make recommendations.
But the request to hold this workshop also reflects a second fact: Members have become increasingly aware of the necessity to bolster trade facilitation with comprehensive technical assistance, and to reform and enhance administrative capacities in developing countries.
Reform of trade procedures requires a government to turn its “customs authority” into “customs service.” Trade facilitation has once been called the “plumbing of trade policy,” because it is not a particularly glamorous subject, yet contributes to the necessary infrastructure for trade. Like other infrastructure issues, reform of trade administration is no easy task: it poses a host of challenges which are difficult for any government to meet. It typically involves legislative amendments, the embracing of technological changes, training, and outreach to the business community. At the same time, governments need to protect revenue and suppress the entry of illicit goods into their territories.
A lot of technical assistance in this area is already being delivered. Intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank, UNCTAD, the UN/ECE, the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank or World Customs Union – to name just a few - as well as regional organizations and donors on a bilateral basis currently execute a large number of assistance projects with the objective to reform and modernize trade administration.
Despite hard work and many tangible improvements, problems remain. Take APEC, where a set of common objectives, backed by targeted technical assistance, is being implemented for some time. A recent APEC Business Facilitation survey shows that business still perceives the complexity and lack of transparency of customs procedures to be the most serious impediment to trade in the region. There is no reason to believe that other regions fare any better in the assessment of traders.
This workshop provides a timely opportunity for donors, recipients, international organisations and some private sector representatives to exchange their experiences on technical assistance and capacity building projects in trade facilitation. It will put Members in a position to take stock of nature and scope of past and current assistance programmes, to assess the expertise of the various providers of technical assistance, and to develop a better understanding of the needs of recipients.
Such information may be a valuable basis on which to identify the roles and complementarities of different actors and programs, and, as appropriate, to develop a more cooperative and coordinated approach in the future.
I am confident that both presentations and debate will contribute to a better understanding of the issues involved and provide valuable input for future work.
I wish you a successful workshop