UNDERSTANDING THE WTO: THE AGREEMENTS
Trade policy reviews: ensuring transparency
Individuals and companies involved in trade have to know as much as possible about the conditions of trade. It is therefore fundamentally important that regulations and policies are transparent. In the WTO, this is achieved in two ways: governments have to inform the WTO and fellow-members of specific measures, policies or laws through regular “notifications”; and the WTO conducts regular reviews of individual countries’ trade policies — the trade policy reviews. These reviews are part of the Uruguay Round agreement, but they began several years before the round ended — they were an early result of the negotiations. Participants agreed to set up the reviews at the December 1988 ministerial meeting that was intended to be the midway assessment of the Uruguay Round. The first review took place the following year. Initially they operated under GATT and, like GATT, they focused on goods trade. With the creation of the WTO in 1995, their scope was extended, like the WTO, to include services and intellectual property.
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The importance countries attach to the process is reflected in the seniority of the Trade Policy Review Body — it is the WTO General Council in another guise.
The objectives are:
- to increase the transparency and understanding of countries’ trade policies and practices, through regular monitoring
- to improve the quality of public and intergovernmental debate on the issues
- to enable a multilateral assessment of the effects of policies on the world trading system.
The reviews focus on members’ own trade policies and practices. But they also take into account the countries’ wider economic and developmental needs, their policies and objectives, and the external economic environment that they face. These “peer reviews” by other WTO members encourage governments to follow more closely the WTO rules and disciplines and to fulfil their commitments. In practice the reviews have two broad results: they enable outsiders to understand a country’s policies and circumstances, and they provide feedback to the reviewed country on its performance in the system.
Over a period of time, all WTO members are to come under scrutiny. The frequency of the reviews depends on the country’s size:
- The four biggest traders — the European Union, the United States, Japan and China — are examined approximately once every two years.
- The next 16 countries (in terms of their share of world trade) are reviewed every four years.
- The remaining countries are reviewed every six years, with the possibility of a longer interim period for the least-developed countries.
- As a result of an amendment to Annex 3 in July 2017, these review cycles will be three, five and seven years respectively, beginning on 1 January 2019.
For each review, two documents are prepared: a policy statement by the government under review, and a detailed report written independently by the WTO Secretariat. These two reports, together with the text of the TPRB Chairperson's Concluding Remarks delivered at the conclusion of the meeting are published shortly afterwards.
is this agreement called?
Trade Policy Review Mechanism