REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS
The Committee considered the Agreement between the Republic of Korea and Türkiye (Services), which has been in force since 1 May 2018. Before that, a framework agreement was in force since 1 May 2013. The Services Agreement follows the scheduling of liberalization commitments in the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) for all services sectors and modes of supply, with periodic reviews aimed at increasing liberalization. Investment-related disciplines going beyond GATS mode 3 are included in an Agreement on Investment. The Agreement on Trade in Goods — in force since 2013 and considered by the Committee in 2014 — complements the parties' bilateral trade relations. Taken together, all these instruments also address issues such as intellectual property rights, competition, environment, labour and electronic commerce.
Korea said that business cooperation between the two countries has grown to encompass service industries such as e-commerce and entertainment since the Services Agreement entered into force. Türkiye said the Services Agreement is in line with its policy of negotiating new generation trade agreements which include sections on services and investment.
Members also considered four agreements between the United Kingdom and several partners which aim to ensure continuity and predictability following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.
The Economic Partnership Agreement between Kenya and the United Kingdom (Goods) entered into force on 1 January 2021. It replicates, with minor changes, the EU-East African Community (EAC) Economic Partnership Agreement which liberalizes most tariffs applied by the UK immediately, and 74% of tariffs by Kenya by 2045. The Agreement also has rendezvous clauses to conclude negotiations within five years of entry into force on issues such as government procurement, environment and labour. The parties also agree to cooperate on economic and development issues.
The UK, speaking also on behalf of Kenya, noted that trade in goods and services between the two countries increased by GBP 76 million to GBP 1.1 billion in 2021 from the previous year. The UK added that the agreement ensures that Kenya, the only EAC partner not benefiting from duty free and quota free access under the UK's Generalised Scheme of Preferences, now benefits from the same duty free quota free access to the UK market enjoyed by all other EAC states.
The Trade and Partnership Agreement between the United Kingdom and Israel (Goods) entered into force on 1 January 2021. With tariff liberalization commitments already implemented, the UK maintains tariffs on 4.4% of tariff lines while Israel maintains tariffs on 6.2%. The Agreement also incorporates provisions on government procurement, competition, environment and labour and establishes cooperation on other issues.
Israel said the UK was its sixth largest destination for exports and ninth largest source of imports in 2021, adding that both parties have launched further negotiations for a modern and comprehensive free trade agreement to include new areas not covered by the current agreement. The UK said Israel was one of its most important trading partners in the Middle East and its 39th largest trading partner globally. The UK said it looks forward to working closely with Israel to enhance their trading relationship.
The Agreement establishing an Association between the United Kingdom and Egypt (Goods) entered into force on 1 January 2021. It maintains most of the links between the parties under the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, which established an association between the European Union and Egypt. The Agreement covers trade in goods and provides for a possible expansion of its scope to include the right of establishment for businesses and the liberalization of trade in services. The parties eliminate tariffs on all but 0.9% and 2.8% of the tariff lines of the UK and Egypt, respectively.
Egypt said bilateral trade amounted to GBP 3.4 billion in 2021, an increase of more than 29% from the previous year. The UK said Egypt is a valued trading partner, noting Egypt's advantageous location on the Suez Canal and its position as an influential regional actor in Africa. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and Egypt grew by over 34% or GBP 1 billion in the four quarters ending in the second quarter of 2022 versus the same period a year ago, the UK said. The UK added it is looking forward to the first trade and investment subcommittee meeting between the two countries and the agriculture review which will be launched before the end of this year.
The Trade Continuity Agreement between the United Kingdom and Mexico (Goods) entered into force on 1 June 2021. It incorporates most provisions and commitments made by the UK and Mexico under the 2000 EU-Mexico Free Trade Agreement. Mexico and the UK also agreed to commence negotiations for an ambitious, modern and comprehensive free trade agreement which they aim to conclude by 2024.
The UK said the parties had launched the new negotiations on 20 May 2022 and that it is looking forward to deepening its relationship with Mexico, noting that Mexico is its second largest trading partner in Latin America. Mexico said the current agreement creates a platform for the parties to deepen and modernise their trading relationship. In 2021, bilateral trade grew by around 50% from a year ago, Mexico said.
Implementation of the RTA transparency mechanism
The Chair of the Committee, Ambassador Taeho Lee of the Republic of Korea, noted that 58 RTAs in force have still not been notified to the WTO (one of these was notified very recently and would be added to the agenda of the following Committee meeting). In addition, there are 54 RTAs involving WTO members and 38 involving non-members for which a factual presentation has to be prepared, counting goods and services separately. The factual presentations for seven services agreements, one of which involves a non-member, are on hold pending the negotiation of services commitments. The Chair called on more members to comply with the process and respond positively to his request for consultations to address the backlog.
The United States encouraged members to provide the full set of information required, noting that the lack of transparency impacts the relevance of the WTO and its committees.
The United States, under “Other Business”, further told members it was interested in hearing views regarding the efficacy and utility of the Committee's processes for reviewing factual presentations on RTAs prepared by the WTO Secretariat. The US said it was also keen to hear members' suggestions on how the Committee can include in its work issues concerning labour, gender, digital trade and climate, which are increasingly featuring in RTAs around the world. The US said it would circulate a communication seeking responses by early 2023 ahead of the Committee's next meeting.
The Chair informed members of the webinar held in October for government officials handling RTA data submissions to the WTO, noting that the next webinar will be held on 29 November. The Secretariat also provided members information on technical assistance activities conducted in 2022 and preliminary plans for 2023.
The Committee adopted its annual report for 2022.
The next Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 27-28 March 2023.