The Secretariat informed members that the new website and database is being finalized based on members' notifications and the work carried out in the Import Licensing Committee since 1995. Of the 164 WTO members, profiles have already been prepared and uploaded for 138 members, and work is under way for another 12. No notification has been submitted by the remaining 14 members.
Members were encouraged to review and verify the information contained in their individual profiles in order to ensure the accuracy of the website before it goes public. This will also provide an opportunity for members to update their data if necessary. Monday 30 September was proposed as the deadline for members to submit the required information in order to ensure a timely official launch of the website.
The Secretariat stressed the underlying principles of this project: notifications must be transparent to make all members aware of new or updated import licensing laws and procedures; any feedback received by the Secretariat will constitute an official confirmation by the relevant authority; and changes notified need to be traceable so that any modification to existing content can be easily reviewed by other members.
Regarding the improvement of notification templates, members updated the committee on their use of the new and voluntary form which provides a simple and streamlined way to submit notifications without jeopardizing their obligations stipulated in the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures. Members such as Japan, Hong Kong China, Switzerland, Ukraine, Myanmar, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia and Costa Rica have already used this form to notify their new import licensing laws and procedures, or changes to existing laws. Some of these members took the floor to underline that the new format will greatly enhance notification efficiency and help members fulfil their obligations.
The committee reviewed 25 new notifications submitted by WTO members since the last meeting held on 22 October 2018. The chair, Ms Lorena Rivera Orjuela of Colombia, congratulated Myanmar for submitting its notifications to the committee for the first time and for the efforts made to prepare them in a very comprehensive way, significantly improving the transparency of Myanmar´s trade policy regime. Myanmar said it appreciated the technical support extended by the WTO Secretariat that enabled it to overcome capacity constraints associated with notification work.
The chair informed the committee that 14 members have not submitted any notification on import licensing since joining the WTO, while 24 members have not yet submitted notifications concerning their laws and regulations. The chair urged those members concerned to submit their notifications as soon as possible and invited them to seek technical support from the Secretariat if required.
New specific trade concerns
The European Union and the United States voiced concerns on Tunisia´s decision in November 2018 to impose import authorization measures on a long list of products, including agriculture and agri-food products, textiles, clothing, cosmetics, leather products, shoes, toys and electrical goods. These authorizations should in theory be guided by technical specification, but instead Tunisian authorities evaluate and decide on importation requests on a case by case basis absent objective criteria, while also applying quantitative restrictions, these members said.
Tunisia responded that its Ministry of Trade is currently evaluating this decision and expressed its readiness to engage bilaterally both with the EU and the US to address this issue.
The United States asked for clarification from the Dominican Republic on its import licensing procedures for agricultural products. The US raised concerns on what appears to be an import licensing system that has not been notified to the committee and seems to be restricting trade in agricultural products, including dry beans, poultry, dairy products, hatching eggs and potatoes.
The Dominican Republic said it applies a 1958 law that requires all imports of plants to have a phytosanitary clearance certificate issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, and to not confuse this with an import licence because the certificate exclusively concerns sanitary control for plant imports and is based on a science-based risk assessment. Regarding meat products, the Dominican Republic stressed that the 1955 law establishing sanitary protection for products of animal origin is currently being updated and will be replaced by a draft law on animal health protection already notified to the WTO.
The US also raised concerns regarding Ghana's import procedures and permits for poultry. The US said Ghana appears to be operating a non-automatic import licensing regime under which imports of poultry products are limited to 25,000 metric tons per month, thus hindering legitimate trade. Ghana said it was open to bilateral discussions and had hoped the US would have explored the possibility of such discussions to sort this issue out before bringing it to the attention of the committee.
Other trade concerns
Members discussed other previously raised issues, such as: Indonesia's licensing regime for cellphones, handheld computers and tablets; India's licensing requirements for boric acid; Viet Nam's import licensing for cyber security products; and China's changes to import licensing for certain recoverable materials.
The chair said the next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 4 October 2019.