Russia, at the committee’s second meeting of the year, sought clarification on the EU’s introduction on 28 April of “prior surveillance” procedures for certain steel and iron imports. Russia said these procedures had a “significant” impact on delivery times and thus grant an advantage to domestic suppliers in the EU. Russia noted that stakeholders are concerned the measure is a portent for new EU safeguard duties on imported iron and steel products.
China said it shared Russia’s concerns and that it believed the measure poses an unnecessary burden on trade. Brazil said it was concerned about the impact on bilateral trade of such potentially restrictive trade measures.
The EU, in response, said the measure does not disrupt nor impede “normal” trade. It noted that the issuing of licences is fully automatic for any quantities of certain steel and iron products irrespective of the price of the product and it is not targeted at products with specific origins. Furthermore, the EU said the licences are valid for four months and can be requested in advance, thus providing a way to prevent delays in shipments. The EU further said the decision on implementing safeguard duties “always depends on the actual situation of the market.”
Ukraine’s draft law on print materials
Russia sought clarification from Ukraine on a draft law that would restrict the distribution of print materials such as books and magazines “with so-called anti-Ukrainian content”. It called on Ukraine to adhere to relevant WTO rules.
Ukraine, in response, said that the draft law prescribes the treatment of print material “of extremist nature”. It said the draft law had not been adopted yet and proposed amendments are still under consideration. Ukraine further said it intends to apply the measure, if passed, on both imported and domestic print products. It was of the view that the committee is not the relevant forum for this discussion.
Other trade concerns
Previously raised specific trade concerns were reiterated at the meeting, including on India’s import licensing requirements on boric acid, Indonesia’s import regulations on cell phones, handheld computers and tablets, Mexico’s automatic licensing procedures on certain steel products, Bangladesh’s import licensing procedures and Viet Nam’s import regime for distilled spirits.
The committee reviewed 55 new notifications submitted by WTO members since the last meeting. The European Union sought clarifications on notifications from Bolivia and Malaysia. Malaysia asked questions regarding Turkey’s surveillance system on imports of solar products. The European Union also challenged Brazil’s replies to the annual questionnaire on each member’s import licensing procedures. The EU said that the information provided did not comply with the requirements. The EU reiterated its longstanding concerns about Brazil’s administrative procedures for importation of nitrocellulose.
Compliance with notification obligations
The committee chair, Mr Tapio Pyysalo (Finland), informed members that overall compliance with notification obligations was “not at all encouraging”. Sixteen members have not submitted any notification on import licensing since joining the WTO while 25 have not submitted replies to the annual questionnaire. Furthermore, from 21 October 2015 to 21 October 2016, only 35 members submitted replies to the questionnaire, of which only 20 were responses for the most recent reporting period.
The chair nevertheless noted that members are trying to find solutions to the low compliance level for notifications and that he is encouraged to see more members involved in efforts to improve transparency and streamline the notification procedures. Three informal consultations were held so far on this and the chair identified five issues as a priority for discussion in the committee: identification of overlapping notification requirements, clarification of elements to be notified, the types of notifications and their content, the appropriate template for each type of notification, and improvements to the annual questionnaire.
The chair said the next committee meeting will be scheduled for late April or early May 2017 on the understanding that additional meetings may be convened if necessary.