WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

27 April 2001

Significant trade barriers remain after Uruguay Round, says new WTO secretariat study

World trade has been liberalized considerably as a result of the Uruguay Round but significant trade barriers remain — including in areas of interest to developing countries like textiles and agriculture, according to a new WTO Secretariat study Market Access: Unfinished Business published today (27 April 2001).

“This new report makes clear that the WTO has plenty of unfinished business,” said Director-General Mike Moore. “The best way we can tackle the many remaining trade barriers that are preventing people and countries from realizing their full potential is in a wider set of negotiations.”

The new WTO Secretariat study profiles post-Uruguay Round market access conditions in three areas — industrial tariffs, agriculture and services — the latter two of which are already the subject of ongoing negotiations. The detailed study is intended as a comprehensive resource for negotiators and the interested public. A copy may be downloaded from the WTO online bookshop.

Some of the findings presented in the new WTO Secretariat study are:

  • Among the 42 developed and developing countries surveyed the average level of bound tariffs for industrial products ranges from 1.8% to 59%.

  • Numerous countries have bound their industrial tariffs at levels significantly above the levels actually applied, with differences between the average bound and average applied rates reaching more than 30% in some countries. In such cases, bindings contribute little to the stability of the applied tariffs.

  • Forty-seven WTO Members and five Observers participate in the Information Technology Agreement which provides for the elimination of tariffs on IT products. These countries currently account for 93% of world trade in IT products.

  • Among the Asian countries in the sample, the share of agricultural tariff lines with bound duties above 100% ranges from zero to 69%, while among European countries the figure ranges from 1% to 45%.

  • Of the 160 possible services subsectors on which Members can choose to schedule specific commitments, the “typical” WTO Member has undertaken commitments on 25 subsectors.

  • The nine countries that joined the WTO between January 1995 and July 2000 have assumed higher levels of commitments, in terms of services sectors included, than incumbent Members at comparable levels of development.

  • In services the two most important modes of supply are mode 1 (cross-border supply) and mode 3 (supply through commercial presence). So far members appear to have concentrated much of negotiating effort on mode 3. There may, however, be a greater focus on mode 1 commitments in the current negotiations as a result of the growth of e-commerce.

The main conclusions of Market Access: Unfinished Business are the following:

  • The Uruguay Round has significantly contributed to the liberalization of international trade but the post-Uruguay Round situation still has many distortions;

  • While there is scope for mutually beneficial agreements in the mandated negotiations on agriculture and services, this scope can be broadened significantly if industrial tariffs are drawn into the picture;

  • Access to other developing countries' markets is becoming increasingly important to developing-country exporters;

  • The products of greatest interest to the least-developed countries — many agricultural products together with clothing and other labor-intensive manufactures — are among the most heavily protected in the markets of their current and potential trading partners, both developed and developing.