REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS

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Parties to the China-Korea Free Trade Agreement said their agreement was comprehensive and had deepened ties between the two economies since it entered into force on 20 December 2015. Korea and China will eliminate over 90% of their tariffs by 2034. The agreement also has provisions on services, investment and e-commerce.

China said there has been good progress in implementation by the parties and that the business sector has made good use of the agreement. Korea said that the agreement has fostered a favourable business environment for trade and investment. Korea added that it hopes to expand the services commitments in the agreement and is in consultations with China to initiate further negotiations on e-commerce.

A number of members lauded the agreement for its broad trade liberalization and signalled interest in plans of the parties to the agreement to explore further commitments under e-commerce.

The factual presentation on this RTA as well as the document compiling members’ questions and answers are available here.

For the Mexico-Panama Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on 1 July 2015, the parties to the agreement noted the advantages of combining their respective strengths in manufacturing and logistics. The agreement, they added, paves the way for Panama's integration into the Pacific Alliance composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Panama said that the agreement shores up its position as a logistics hub in the region and that its agriculture and merchandise exports will enjoy new opportunities. Mexico said the complementarity of the two countries' economies is one of the main strengths of the partnership.

A WTO member, commenting on the agreement, said it had strong provisions on trade facilitation, customs, e-commerce and services, including financial services and telecommunications.

The factual presentation on this RTA as well as the document compiling members’ questions and answers are available here.

As for the EU-ESA States interim Economic Partnership Agreement, the parties to the agreement said it had consolidated their long standing trade relationships and was a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive agreement in the future. Under this agreement, which entered into force on 14 May 2012, the EU eliminated 99.8% of its tariffs in 2012 while the ESA states (Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) will liberalize 85.8%-98.2% of their tariffs by 2022.

The European Union said the agreement had strengthened the ESA states' access to European markets and that the parties could explore deeper discussions on services and investment. Mauritius, on behalf of the ESA states, said the agreement was crucial to safeguarding their preferential access to the EU market, which has been instrumental to their economic and social development. Mauritius added that the parties have agreed to deepen the agreement and that they were interested in exploring issues such as value chains, industrial development, and cooperation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. A meeting is scheduled in January 2018 for such discussions.

A WTO member commented that the agreement was important and that the information provided was useful for further reflection.

The factual presentation on this RTA as well as the document compiling members’ questions and answers are available here.

Reinvigorating committee work

Committee chair Ambassador Walid Doudech (Tunisia) provided a summary of his consultations with members about implementing paragraph 28 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration from 2015. Ministers had instructed the committee to discuss the systemic implication of RTAs for the multilateral trading system and their relationship to WTO rules. The ministerial declaration also called on members to work towards the transformation of the provisional Transparency Mechanism, under which the Committee currently operates, into a permanent one without prejudice to questions related to notification requirements.

The chair said there was more interest among those members he consulted in pursuing the issue of systemic implications of RTAs on the multilateral trading system. The members he spoke with support continued discussions on the issue, with a suggestion to hold them in an informal format. One member, at the meeting, objected to institutionalizing such discussions. Another reiterated its position that any discussion of systemic issues should not lead to the development of new rules or obligations for members.

Sixty-nine RTAs had not been notified to the WTO as of 27 October 2017. Moreover, there are currently 34 RTAs involving only WTO members plus an additional 36 RTAs involving non-members for which a factual presentation had to be prepared, counting goods and services separately. Furthermore, there are three RTAs for which the factual consideration is delayed due to a lack of comments on the draft factual presentations.

The WTO Secretariat again urged members to submit data and comments in a timely fashion to enable the committee to adhere to its work programme. One member raised the issue of the differing practices used by the CRTA and the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) to implement the Transparency Mechanism on RTAs. The member requested the chair to undertake consultations with the chair of the CTD, the relevant Deputy Director-General and WTO Secretariat staff to review such practices.

The chair also proposed that members revisit the templates for submitting RTA notifications and changes to RTAs at the next meeting, while the Secretariat gave an account of technical assistance activities on RTAs undertaken in 2017 and those planned for 2018. The Committee adopted its Annual Report for 2017.

Next meeting

The next CRTA meeting is scheduled for 5-6 April 2018.

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