Negotiating an agreement on trade facilitation

As part of the “July Package” (July 2004), the General Council on 1 August 2004 decided by explicit consensus to commence negotiations on trade facilitation.

Members agreed that the negotiations “shall aim to clarify and improve relevant aspects of Articles V, VIII and X of the GATT 1994 with a view to further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit”.

Negotiations also aimed at “enhancing technical assistance and support for capacity building in this area,” and at developing “provisions for effective cooperation between customs or any other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues”. The results “shall take fully into account the principle of special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries”. It was further agreed that these countries would not be obliged “to undertake investments in infrastructure projects beyond their means”.

On 12 October 2004, the Trade Negotiations Committee established the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation and appointed Ambassador Muhamad Noor of Malaysia as its Chairperson.

Soon thereafter, the newly established Negotiating Group agreed on a Work Plan and a schedule of meetings at its first meeting.

After almost a decade of intense negotiations, WTO Members were able to conclude their negotiations on a Trade Facilitation Agreement at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013. They decided on a text with 13 articles and a section dealing with special and differential treatment provisions, subject to rectifications of a formal character in the framework of a subsequent legal review.

When agreement was finally reached at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, WTO members had achieved a consensus text with 13 articles and a special section dealing with special and differential treatment provisions.

Among the issues addressed in the Agreement are:

  • norms for the publication of laws, regulations and procedures, including Internet publication
  • provision for advance rulings
  • disciplines on fees and charges and on penalties
  • pre-arrival processing of goods
  • use of electronic payment
  • guarantees to allow rapid release of goods
  • use of "authorized operators" schemes
  • procedures for expedite shipments
  • faster release of perishable goods
  • reduced documents and formalities with common customs standards
  • promotion of the use of a single window
  • uniformity in border procedures
  • temporary admission of goods
  • simplified transit procedures
  • provisions for customs cooperation and coordination.

The Agreement also called for the establishment of a Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation under the General Council, open to all WTO members, to perform such functions as may be necessary to ensure the expeditious entry into force of the Agreement and to prepare for the efficient operation of the Agreement upon its entry into force.

In particular, the Preparatory Committee was tasked to conduct the legal review of the Agreement, to receive notifications of commitments from members, and to draw up a Protocol of Amendment to insert the Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement.

The General Council was mandated to meet no later than 31 July 2014 to annex to the Agreement notifications of members' commitments, to adopt the Protocol drawn up by the Preparatory Committee, and to open the Protocol for acceptance until 31 July 2015. The Protocol was decided to enter into force in accordance with Article X:3 of the WTO Agreement.