The TFA entered into force on 22 February 2017, following its ratification by two-thirds of the WTO membership. DDG Agah noted that estimates show that full implementation of the TFA could reduce trade costs by more than 14% on average and boost global trade by up to $1 trillion per year, with the biggest gains in the poorest countries — especially in Africa.
To date, 19 African countries have ratified the TFA.
The TFA will help the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, DDG Agah said. It will also improve cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. These are all areas in which most African countries have significant challenges, he added.
For the first time in WTO history, the requirement to implement the Agreement is directly linked to the capacity of the country to do so, DDG Agah noted. The TFA allows each developing and least-developed country to implement the provisions according to its priorities and development level and to decide when it will implement each of the 36 measures. In addition, the measures are not prescriptive, he said, allowing each country the flexibility to implement the measures in the manner best suited to its unique situation.
The WTO, its members, and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank, the World Customs Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) are providing technical assistance on trade facilitation, DDG Agah noted. In July 2014 the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) was launched to assist developing and least-developed countries in implementing the TFA.
African regional integration
At a separate World Economic Forum on Africa event on 4 May, DDG Agah addressed efforts to boost African regional economic integration through initiatives such as the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) negotiations.
Africa’s trade is highly focused on countries and regions outside the continent, with only 10% of trade taking place on an intra-regional basis. Support for boosting intra-regional trade is required not only in traditional areas such as trade-related infrastructure, trade facilitation, productive capacities and trade policy, but also in “emerging issues” such as trade finance and trade information.
DDG Agah said the WTO supports African integration both within regions as well as at the continental level. In this regard, the WTO is supportive of Africa’s move towards the CFTA as a means of harmonizing regional initiatives as well as boosting intra-African trade. Policy synergies emerging from the CFTA will ultimately lead to better integration of Africa into the multilateral trading system, he added.