Overseeing national trade policies: the TPRM
Surveillance of national trade policies is a fundamentally important activity running throughout the work of the WTO. At the centre of this work is the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM).
The reviews take place in the Trade Policy Review Body which is actually the WTO General Council comprising the WTOs full membership operating under special rules and procedures. The reviews are therefore essentially peer-group assessments, although much of the factual leg-work is done by the WTO Secretariat.
The Trade Policy Review Mechanism was an early result of the Uruguay Round, being provisionally established at the Montreal Mid-Term Review of the Round in December 1988. Article III of the Marrakesh Agreement, agreed by Ministers in April 1994, placed the TPRM on a permanent footing as one of the WTOs basic functions and, with the entry into force of the WTO in 1995, the mandate of the TPRM was broadened to cover services trade and intellectual property.
The objectives of the TPRM, as expressed in Annex 3 of the Marrakesh Agreement, include facilitating the smooth functioning of the multilateral trading system by enhancing the transparency of Members trade policies.
All WTO Members are subject to review under the TPRM. The Annex mandates that the four Members with the largest shares of world trade (currently the European Communities, the United States, Japan and China) be reviewed each two years, the next 16 be reviewed each four years, and others be reviewed each six years. A longer period may be fixed for least-developed country Members.
In 1994, flexibility of up to six months was introduced into the review cycles, and in 1996 it was agreed that every second review of each of the first four trading entities should be an interim review.
How the reviews are organized
Reviews are conducted by the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) on the basis of a policy statement by the Member under review and a report prepared by economists in the Secretariat's Trade Policy Review Division.
The TPRBs debate is stimulated by two discussants, selected beforehand for this purpose.
In preparing its report, the Secretariat seeks the cooperation of the Member, but has the sole responsibility for the facts presented and views expressed.
The reports consist of detailed chapters examining the trade policies and practices of the Member and describing trade policymaking institutions and the macroeconomic situation; these chapters are preceded by the Secretariat's Summary Observations, which summarize the report and presents the Secretariat's perspective on the Member's trade policies. The Secretariat report and the Member's policy statement are published after the review meeting, along with the minutes of the meeting and the text of the TPRB Chairperson's Concluding Remarks delivered at the conclusion of the meeting.
Much has been written outside the WTO about the TPRM and additions to the list of TPRM-related publications are invited.