The TFA, the first multilateral deal concluded in the 21 year history of the WTO, entered into force on 22 February after the organization obtained the needed acceptance from two-thirds of its 164 members for the agreement to take effect. The TFA seeks to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders and creates a significant boost for the multilateral trading system.
In his address to WTO members, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said:
“By ratifying the agreement, members have shown their commitment to the multilateral trading system. You have followed through on the promises made when this deal was struck in Bali. And by bringing the deal into force we can now begin the work of turning its benefits into reality.”
DG Azevêdo also thanked the members for their considerable efforts to reach this historic juncture. “This achievement belongs to all of you,” he said.
The Director-General, in his capacity as depositary of the WTO Agreements and their amendments, signed the official depositary notification of the TFA's entry into force. He handed over the notification to General Council Chair Ambassador Harald Neple (Norway) at the meeting.
“The Agreement on Trade Facilitation is a defining multilateral achievement of our time,” Ambassador Neple said. “It is practical, modern and global and it symbolizes the essence of the WTO: members from all corners of the globe coming together, overcoming differences and responding to pressing trade issues for the benefit of all,” he said.
The chair called on members who have not yet ratified the TFA to do so soon and to deposit their instruments of acceptance. All members, the chair added, must work together to fully implement the Agreement.
All delegations taking the floor at the meeting—representing developed, developing and least-developed countries (LDCs)—welcomed the TFA's entry into force.
Cambodia, speaking on behalf of the least-developed countries (LDC) group, said the milestone marked a very important start to members' work to achieve results in trade facilitation. Cambodia, along with several other delegations, emphasized the need of developing countries and LDCs for implementation assistance.
Several delegations meanwhile echoed the chair's call for the remaining members to ratify the TFA while also offering their support for capacity building for the Agreement's implementation.
Many also remarked that the TFA's entry into force demonstrated members' collaboration across various levels of development and could serve as a model for more WTO agreements in the future.
The Agreement is unique in that it allows developing and least-developed countries to set their own timetables for implementing the TFA depending on their capacities to do so – and it provides for support to help them develop their capacity. The Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) was created at the request of developing and least-developed countries to help ensure they receive the assistance needed to reap the full benefits of the TFA and to support the ultimate goal of full implementation of the new agreement by all members. The TFA further provides for the establishment of a Committee on Trade Facilitation to periodically review the Agreement’s operation and implementation.
Full implementation of the TFA is forecast to slash members' trade costs by an average of 14.3 per cent, with developing countries having the most to gain, according to a 2015 study carried out by WTO economists. The TFA is also likely 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.