REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS
The Committee considered the Free Trade Agreement between the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Hong Kong, China (Goods and Services) under the Transparency Mechanism for RTAs. The Agreement gradually came into force for all parties between 2019 and 2021. See the details here.
Indonesia, speaking on behalf of ASEAN, said that the Agreement seeks to deepen regional economic integration and support economic development for all parties. Hong Kong, China noted that the Agreement seeks to open business opportunities for enterprises and service providers from ASEAN, creating a more conducive environment for the development of both economies.
The Committee also considered the Free Trade Agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and Türkiye (Goods and Services). The revised Agreement entered into force on 1 October 2021.
Norway on behalf of EFTA stressed that the modernization of the Agreement provides a conducive environment for each party's business sectors to expand. Türkiye noted that the modernization extends the scope of the 1991 Agreement to several areas to reflect changing trends in global trade.
Also under consideration was the entry into force for Peru of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Goods and Services, on 19 September 2021.
Peru's ratification of the Agreement will help businesses access the markets of an economic bloc accounting for 13 per cent of world GDP and 15 per cent of world trade, Peru said. Peru seeks to attract investment, improve competitiveness — particularly of small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) — and support women's participation in the economy. Other objectives include promoting innovation, job creation and pursuing sustainable economic development.
New Zealand, as President of the CPTPP in 2023, took the opportunity to update members on recent developments, including on enhancing digital trade facilitation, promoting inclusive sustainable trade and adapting business policies and practices to changes in global trade. Supporting the expansion of businesses, including the integration of MSMEs into global supply chains, is another goal of the CPTPP.
Furthermore, members considered the Partnership, Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and North Macedonia (Goods and Services), which entered into force on 1 January 2021.
Speaking for both parties, the United Kingdom said that the Agreement establishes continued trade preferences available under the previous Agreement with the European Union. Trade in goods and services between both parties amounted to GBP 2.3 billion (CHF 2.6 billion) in the four quarters of 2022 and the value of total bilateral trade has more than quadrupled since 2013.
The Partnership, Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and Serbia (Goods and Services) was also considered by the Committee under a separate agenda item. It entered into force on 20 May 2021.
The UK, also speaking for Serbia, a WTO observer, said that the Agreement largely replicates the European Union-Serbia Stabilization and Association Agreement, providing continuity and predictability for both countries' businesses. The UK noted that the value of total trade between both parties was GBP 860 million (CHF 982 million) in the four quarters of 2022 and total bilateral trade has more than doubled since 2013.
Notifications of RTAs
The Committee took note of six new regional trade agreement notifications, four of which concerned new agreements and the termination of one agreement.
The Chair, Ambassador Clare Kelly of New Zealand, said that a factual presentation is to be prepared for 52 RTAs involving WTO members and 35 involving non-members, 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. She also noted that 56 RTAs currently in force have not been notified to the WTO according to a list compiled by the WTO Secretariat.
Improving the Committee's work
The chair praised members for their “significant engagement” in the recent discussions on how to improve the functioning of the Committee and said discussions would continue. Members also expressed appreciation for a presentation by the WTO Secretariat on the updated work programme of the Committee, which will be made available online at a later date. They also agreed that the Secretariat should be entrusted with making sensible procedural changes to improve the functioning of the Committee.
In its communication presented to the Committee, China proposed reflecting on using digital and other new tools, and emphasized the importance of strengthening transparency by ensuring that members notify their agreements in a timely manner. Supporting developing economies in fulfilling their notification requirements also featured in China's communication.
The discussions on improving the functioning of the Committee were prompted by questions from the United States circulated in January.
Date of next meeting
The next Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 25-26 September.