MARKET ACCESS FOR GOODS
Members welcomed a new summary report (G/MA/W/168 and G/MA/W/168/Corr.1) prepared by the WTO Secretariat on export restrictions and trade-facilitating measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic which were notified by members. The full list of the notifications and communications that have been submitted by members as of 15 April 2021 is contained in document G/MA/W/157/Rev.2.
The report indicates that 48 measures that prohibit or restrict exports as a result of COVID-19 have been notified by 29 members (56 counting the EU member states individually) under the 2012 Decision on Notification Procedures for Quantitative Restrictions (QR Decision). Additional information compiled by the WTO Secretariat in the context of the Trade Monitoring Report suggests that 10 additional members and several non-WTO members have also introduced similar export-restricting measures in response to the pandemic, which have not yet been notified under the QR Decision. The Committee tasked the Secretariat to update its report by taking into account information provided in the context of the Trade Monitoring Report.
The majority of the export-restrictive measures introduced by members took the form of non-automatic export licensing schemes (38.5%), followed by full bans or prohibitions on exports (34.6%) and conditional prohibitions (25%). An overwhelming majority of the export-prohibiting and restricting measures notified were introduced between February and April 2020 (40 out of 48 measures). This period coincides with the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization and the lockdowns and other health measures in response to COVID-19.
Regarding products covered, the majority of the notified measures prohibited or restricted the exportation of personal protective equipment (PPEs), which includes face and eye protection devices (26 measures), protective garments (19 measures) and gloves (19 measures). Other restricted products included sanitizers and disinfectants including alcohol (15 measures), pharmaceutical products (14 measures), different types of medical supplies (13 measures), medical equipment including mechanical respirators (11 measures) and other products.
The chair, Anatoly Chaplin of the Russian Federation, noted that only 10 members have notified the termination of their export prohibitions or restrictions (Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, the European Union, Moldova, Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine, Viet Nam) and that many other members have not done so yet. Given the importance of transparency, he urged members to notify any change as quickly as possible.
The second part of the Secretariat report summarized the measures that have been implemented by members to facilitate trade, most of which relate to the exemption or elimination of tariffs and other taxes on essential products to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. They also include several measures that simplified customs procedures.
These measures are contained in communications that have been submitted by members to the Committee for transparency, despite the fact that there is no notification obligation to do so. One of these was a new communication submitted by Australia with unilateral measures that aim at facilitating trade for essential products to combat the COVID-19 pandemic (G/MA/W/165), which was reviewed at the meeting.
Introduction to HS2022
A presentation was given by a representative of the WCO describing the main changes to be expected by the entry into force on 1 January 2022 of the 7th edition of the Harmonized System (HS) — the so-called HS2022 — under the Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System.
The HS is an international nomenclature developed by the WCO, which is arranged in six-digit codes allowing all participating countries to classify traded goods on a common basis. Normally amended by the WCO every four to six years, the HS is used by members in their schedules of concessions and in the definitions of product coverage for a number of WTO agreements.
The WCO informed members that currently the HS is used in 211 economies (of which 160 are contracting parties to the HS Convention). The new edition introduces some major changes to the Harmonized System with a total of 351 sets of amendments covering a wide range of goods moving across borders. In comparison, the 2017 edition contained 233 sets of amendments.
The changes introduced in HS2022 include the recognition of new groups of products that were not previously visible in the classification and the clarification of changes to reinforce the correct classification of certain products. The objective is to address changing trade patterns through the recognition of high-profile or new product streams as well as environmental and social issues of global concern, such as health and safety, protection of society and the fight against illicit trade and terrorism.
New categories were created to classify a wide range of products, including electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), novel tobacco and nicotine-based products, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), smartphones, glass fibres, placebos and clinical trial kits for medical research, radioactive materials and biological safety cabinets as well as for items required for the construction of improvised explosive devices.
WTO's Integrated Database (IDB)
Members welcomed the Secretariat's initiative to organize in mid-June a second feedback session on the WTO's publications and online tools to disseminate tariff and import data. Following the successful session in July 2019, members will be asked to provide feedback on the different data dissemination and online data tools related to the WTO's Integrated Database (IDB) and the Consolidated Tariff Schedules Database (CTS) as well as new databases such as the Goods Schedules E-Library and the QR Database. The Secretariat will report on the steps taken to respond to members' feedback and its future plans.
The IDB is the only database based on official data supplied by members on tariffs and import data. It contains data supplied annually on the tariffs members apply on a non-discriminatory basis in line with the most-favoured nation (MFN) principle as well as their annual imports by tariff line and country of origin. Data on preferential duties under free trade agreements (FTAs) and/or preferential schemes for developing countries are available for some members.
Following the adoption of the new IDB Decision in 2019 (G/MA/367), the number of notifications has increased significantly. It was pointed out that members now have the possibility to come to an agreement with the WTO Secretariat for the automatic transmission of their tariff and import data, which would simplify their notification procedures and provide access to up-to-date data.
The CTS contains in a standardized format all WTO members' commitments on the tariffs they will apply to imports from other members. The database has been established as a working tool only, without any implications regarding the legal status of the information contained in the database. Members welcomed the project by the Secretariat to make CTS files available in MS Excel, which would simply their access and consultation.
Members stressed the importance of continuously improving the functionality of the WTO data dissemination and online tools and the key role the Secretariat plays to address the needs of members and to identify areas for improvement.
For the first time, the Committee used the e-Agenda system for the preparation of its formal meeting. This was preceded by a mock session where members provided inputs which helped refine the system. The e-Agenda is still at an early stage and members will have another opportunity to provide feedback aimed at improving the system at the next informal meeting of the Committee, scheduled to take place on 26 May. Ahead of that meeting, members were invited to elaborate on their views on how the system works and whether adjustments or other actions would be required.
The Committee addressed over 20 trade concerns, new and previously raised, including:
- Angola's import-restricting measures, raised by the United States;
- China's customs duties on certain integrated circuits, raised by the EU, Japan and Chinese Taipei;
- China's trade-disruptive and restrictive measures, raised by Australia;
- The European Union's carbon border adjustment mechanism, raised by Armenia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Qatar, the Russian Federation and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia;
- The European's Union vaccine export transparency mechanism, raised by Australia;
- India's customs duties on telecommunication and other products, raised by China;
- India's import policies on tyres, raised by the European Union;
- India's restrictions on air conditioners, raised by Japan;
- India's quantitative restrictions on certain pulses, raised by Australia, Canada, the EU, the Russian Federation and the United States;
- Indonesia's customs duties on telecommunication products, raised by the United States;
- Indonesia's restrictions on air conditioners, raised by Japan;
- Mexico's import quota on glyphosate, raised by the United States;
- Mongolia's quantitative restrictions on the importation of certain agricultural products, raised by the Russian Federation;
- Nepal's imports ban on energy drinks, raised by Thailand;
- Russia's export prohibition on timber products, raised by the EU;
- Russia's track and trace regime, raised by the United States;
- The selective tax on certain imported products, raised by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, raised by the EU, Switzerland and the United States;
- Sri Lanka's import ban on various products, raised by the EU;
- Sri Lanka's import ban on palm oil, raised by Indonesia;
- The United Kingdom's renegotiation of tariff rate quotas (TRQs) under Article XXVIII of the GATT 1994, raised by the Russian Federation;
- The United Kingdom's rectifications and modifications of Schedule XIX, raised by the Russian Federation; and
- Egypt's manufacturer registration system, raised by the Russian Federation.
The next formal meeting has been scheduled for 11 October 2021, with informal meetings of the Committee on 26 May and 16 June 2021.