MARKET ACCESS FOR GOODS
The experience-sharing session followed on from the first session held on 4 March 2022, which addressed two main topics: the definition of lists of essential goods to fight the pandemic and challenges related to tariff classification. Both sessions were well attended by Geneva and capital-based officials, signalling that experience sharing should remain high on the work programme of the Committee.
In the second session, China, the European Union, Thailand, the United Kingdom and India reported on how they have organized their national statistical systems to monitor and measure trade in essential goods to combat COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic — for example, by including new tariff codes or statistical breakouts or by relying on other methods. Members also shared the problems faced in data monitoring and collection and how they were addressed.
The session had many common elements with the previous one. Members noted that the identification of essential products, their classification in the Harmonized System (HS) or national tariff systems — which were addressed in the first session — and the collection of trade statistics are partially interrelated. Moreover, these issues have proven to be difficult to tackle during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in its most intense phases.
Members also stressed that a lack of adequate or timely statistical information at the national level in many cases made it difficult to target trade policy in a precise fashion. This problem was compounded at the global level as the national approaches for collecting statistics were not coordinated, making it very difficult to get an overall picture of what was happening on the ground.
Members recognized that the WTO plays a key role in capturing trade data from members through the WTO Integrated Database (IDB). As the main source of information on tariff data and import statistics at the national level, the IDB is well placed to maintain trade data for products beyond the HS 6-digit level. A call was made to members to provide as much detailed trade information as possible to the database and to try to do this on a voluntary basis more frequently during crisis periods.
The World Customs Organization (WCO) recognized that classification of goods is a complex area. For the next version of the nomenclature, the HS 2027, it would be necessary for the trade and health administrations to work in conjunction with the customs administrations and to submit proposals for amendments to the WCO to address the issues identified regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chair of the Committee, Mr Chakarin Komolsiri of Thailand, thanked members for their active engagement and stressed the value of this series of experience-sharing sessions. “Today we have seen a multitude of the challenges of the past, and we are learning from each other what solutions worked well. While we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, we can now take more conscious decisions that will influence how we will respond to future crises,” he said.
Mr Komolsiri noted that the session also allowed members to acquire relevant knowledge and experience on what information and data was needed but was not available at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, while members were making efforts to improve the measurement of trade data in these products at the national level, in the vast majority of cases trade statistics continued to be collected and aggregated in the same way as before the pandemic.
“As a result, members currently lack, and unless some action is taken, will continue to lack, the right tools to have a detailed and precise measurement of trade in products that matter the most for this pandemic or, maybe even more importantly, the next one,” the chair added.
In this regard, members agreed to task the Secretariat to work on a survey through which delegations could provide more comprehensive and detailed information on the topics discussed so far and try to reduce the existing gaps. The chair stressed that the success and continuity of this initiative will depend on the number of replies received by members.
Two other topics and dates were identified by members for the Committee to facilitate further discussions at the technical level. Members agreed to hold the third experience-sharing session on 27 June 2022 to share members' practices on measures aimed at easing trade under the purview of the Committee, including tariff suspensions, reductions or eliminations.
The fourth session on how to improve transparency in export restrictions, as well as sharing of experiences with respect to the choices underpinning the use of such restrictions, was scheduled for 16 September 2022.