REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS
The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement entered into force on 21 November 2019. Under the Agreement, the EU will eliminate duties on more than 99% of tariff lines for imports from Singapore by 2025 while Singapore's imports from the EU became fully duty free upon the Agreement's entry into force. Moreover, both parties to the Agreement agreed to improve market access for trade in services and investment compared to their commitments under the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
Singapore at the meeting said the high-standard Agreement helped cushion the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on bilateral trade. EU-Singapore bilateral trade in goods amounted to 90 billion Singaporean dollars in 2020, or close to 10% of Singapore's total trade in goods that year. The EU said the Agreement is a stepping stone towards more engagement between the two economies. The EU also noted that the Agreement provides additional market access for postal services, telecommunications, maritime transport and computer services, noting that Singapore is the EU's 5th largest trade partner in services and 6th highest recipient of EU direct investment.
A number of members who took the floor remarked on the high and impressive level of liberalization in the Agreement.
Members also considered the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which entered into force on 11 February 2020. Tariff elimination under the Agreement will be completed in 2023 by Australia and 2029 by Peru. Australia and Peru will maintain duties on respectively 12 and 48 tariff lines after full implementation. Trade in services are also liberalized under the Agreement and there are provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, technical barriers to trade (TBT), competition, environment and labour.
Peru said that implementing the comprehensive and modern Agreement will contribute to a significant increase in bilateral trade and contribute to economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Agreement helps facilitate value chains between the Americas and Asia and establishes legal certainty and more options for traders and consumers. Australia said the Agreement is fully consistent with WTO principles and rules and provides substantial liberalization across all sectors, delivering outcomes more ambitious than in WTO agreements. Australia highlighted benefits for goods like merino wool, base metals, mineral fuels, paper and pharmaceuticals, and for services like professional services, financial services, telecommunications, health services and tourism under the Agreement.
A number of members who took the floor likewise commended the parties for the high level of liberalization in the Agreement.
Implementation of the RTA Transparency Mechanism
The outgoing chair of the Committee, Ambassador Mārtinš Kreitus of Latvia, noted that 53 RTAs have still not been notified to the WTO. In addition, there are 61 RTAs involving WTO members and 15 involving non-members for which a factual presentation has to be prepared, counting goods and services separately.
The steep increase in pending factual presentations is due to the new trade agreements between the United Kingdom and its partners following the UK's withdrawal from the EU. The UK said it looked forward to working with the WTO Secretariat and its partners in the preparation of the factual presentations.
The Chair said he had held consultations with delegations for which the RTA factual consideration remains delayed due to the lack of comments or data from the members involved and hoped that the outstanding information would be provided soon.
Election of new chair
WTO members elected by acclamation Ambassador Cleopa Kilonzo Mailu of Kenya as the new chair of the Committee. He said he looked forward to collaborating with all WTO members and the Secretariat towards successful and enriching discussions in the Committee.
Argentina, on behalf of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and its own delegation, delivered a statement to mark the upcoming 30th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Asunción, which established the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) on 26 March 1991.
The common market has accelerated growth of trade and created higher quality jobs for its members, Argentina said. Furthermore, at present, almost 60 countries have agreements, or are involved in trade negotiations, with Mercosur. Amid challenges posed by the current dynamic international environment, Mercosur will continue to be part of the solution, Argentina said.