WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


9 March 1998

Ruggiero criticizes “invisible” trade barriers

WTO Director-General Renato Ruggiero, in opening the WTO Symposium on Trade Facilitation today
(9 March), criticized “invisible” trade barriers - excessive documentation requirements and procedural delays facing businesses in moving goods across borders - that he said are adding costs to traders, consumers and national economies, and creating “an overall negative trading environment”.

He said that as the classical trade barriers - tariffs and quantitative restrictions - have come down to the lowest levels ever as a result of the Uruguay Round, attention has turned to what he called “invisible costs” resulting from documentation requirements, procedural delays, and lack of transparency and predictability in the application of government rules and regulations.

Mr. Ruggiero said he called these costs “invisible” because they are not part of governments' actual commercial policy, but that “they are surely not invisible for traders and consumers”. He said that in many cases, these “invisible” costs exceed the actual level of duties paid on the products.

He added that “as tariffs and traditional non-tariff measures have been sharply reduced everywhere, procedural barriers to cross-border transactions have become crucial determinants of investment decisions by foreign investors”.

Mr. Ruggiero expressed confidence that the Symposium “will place WTO Members in a better position to move to the phase of analytical work on trade facilitation, in order to assess the scope for WTO rules in this area”.

The WTO has brought some 300 traders and government policymakers together to identify problems hampering movement of goods across borders at a Symposium on Trade Facilitation on 9-10 March 1998 in its new conference centre. It is an initiative of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods, which was instructed by the Singapore Ministerial Conference “to undertake exploratory and analytical work, drawing on the work of other relevant international organizations, on the simplification of trade procedures in order to assess the scope for WTO rules in this area”.

Some of the world's leading corporations are presenting the practical problems traders face when moving goods across borders. Among the panellists at the Symposium are representatives from the United States' Federal Express, General Motors, General Electric Information Systems and Mattel; the Netherlands' Shell; Switzerland's Gondrand AG; India's Lemuir Group; United Kingdom's SITPRO and Marinade Ltd.; Xerox Brazil; the Bank of Botswana; and Malaysia's Multimedia Development Corporation. Also participating are the following industry groups: the Federation of German Industries, French Wine and Spirits Exporters, Federation of Dutch Entrepreneurs and the British Services Association.

NGO participants include the International Chamber of Commerce, International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Chamber of Shipping, International Road Transport Union, the International Union of Railways, Lima Chamber of Commerce, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce and FIATA.

The full text of Mr. Ruggiero's speech