Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

Overview of trade facilitation work in 2001

The Council for Trade in Good's exploratory and analytical work also continued in 2001.

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Trade facilitation work in 2002

> Trade facilitation work in 2001
Trade facilitation in the preparatory work for the Doha Ministerial Conference, (2001)

Trade facilitation work in  2000
De-restricted papers submitted until end of 2000

Work from mid-1998 until end of 1999
> Trade Facilitation in the preparatory work for the Seattle Ministerial Conference (1999)

Work in the WTO until mid-1998

At two informal meetings in February and May, delegations discussed a total of four national experience papers submitted by the Czech Republic (G/C/W/247), Guatemala (G/C/W/248), Australia (G/C/W/263) and Costa Rica (G/C/W/265). Some delegations drew linkages between the national experiences and WTO principles. They held that the experiences presented in those papers showed that problems faced by traders are identical in practically every country regardless of their level of development. Likewise, trade facilitation policies applied by governments all over the world were essentially based on the same principles such as simplification, predictability, transparency, non-discrimination and consultation. Those principles would already exist in the GATT 1994 but needed to be further elaborated in order to address customs and border-crossing problems in an efficient and coherent manner. Other delegations expressed caution against expanding the WTO legal framework so as to include trade facilitation rules.

At the February meeting, Members further requested the Secretariat to organize a Workshop On Technical Assistance And Capacity Building On Trade Facilitation. The objective of this workshop was defined as providing a forum for an exchange of views among all relevant parties — donors, recipients, international organizations and representatives of the private sector — on the role of technical assistance and capacity building in the facilitation of trade.

The Workshop was held on 10–11 May. In four sessions, twenty-four speakers shared their experiences with the provision of technical assistance, took stock of past and present programmes, analysed the needs of recipients and assessed the expertise of the various providers of technical assistance. (For the detailed agenda see the program; download the respective presentations). Panellists comprised representatives from intergovernmental organizations (IMF, Inter-American Development Bank, UNCTAD, World Bank and World Customs Union), donor (Canada, European Communities, Japan, Netherlands and United States) and recipient Members (Bangladesh, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Jordan, Philippines, Senegal and Turkey) as well as representatives from the private sector (CrossStreetTrade, Gateway Services Ltd, ICC, IECC and NTT Communications Corporation).

Drawing on conclusions made by both panelists and discussants in the course of the workshop, delegations underlined the importance of technical assistance and capacity building for facilitating trade and identified the following elements as essential for the successful execution of trade facilitation-related technical assistance programs:

  • the political will of governments to undertake trade facilitation-related reforms;

  • coordination and cooperation among the providers of technical assistance

  • transparency of reform programs as well as of the legal system

  • the involvement of all stakeholders (governments, business community, customs...) in the execution of trade facilitation measures;

  • the responsiveness of trade facilitation programmes to particular needs of recipients and

  • the use of agreed benchmarks in their execution.

Delegations also underlined the necessity of technical assistance to be sustainable and consistent with reform efforts at the national level.

With growing closeness to the Fourth Ministerial scheduled for November 2001, the Secretariat's work increasingly focussed on the preparatory process for the Doha Conference.


Trade facilitation in the preparatory work for the Doha Ministerial Conference back to top

As one of the “new issues”, trade facilitation was proposed to be included in the agenda of a new round of multilateral trade negotiations. Many delegations considered the topic to be ripe for negotiations in the WTO. They held the opinion that after more than four years of exploring and analyzing the scope for WTO rules on this issue, it was now time to move to the next stage and enter the negotiating phase.

A group of members advocating the negotiation of trade facilitation rules proposed a two track approach, centered around commitments on border and border-related procedures to expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods. Rules were suggested to build upon existing WTO provisions, in particular GATT Articles V (freedom of transit), VIII (fees and formalities connected with importation and exportation) and X (publication and administration of trade regulations) as well as on principles such as transparency, due process, simplification, efficiency and non-discrimination. Among the examples given by the proponents of what could be covered by such rules were the simplification/minimization of data and documentation requirements, the streamlining of data entry and exchange (e.g. electronic transmissions), or the use of international standards where appropriate and possible. As for the second track, the proposal provided for the development and implementation of a comprehensive technical assistance program in parallel to negotiations. Such assistance would involve the cooperation and coordination amongst donors and recipients and include needs assessment as well as long-term monitoring and follow-up.

On the other hand, there were many developing country members, which, while supportive of the objectives of trade facilitation, did not want to take on new legal obligations in the WTO at this point in time. Those members were concerned that additional rules will exceed their implementation capacities and expose them to dispute settlement. Some delegations also expressed their preference for trade facilitation work to be undertaken at the national, bilateral or regional level.

To address these concerns and to gain a better understanding of the respective positions, a series of informal consultations were held in June, July and October 2001. Those consultations revealed that, while there was some movement towards common ground, a number of divergences continued to exist.

After intense and heated discussions, and several draft texts for a new trade facilitation mandate, Ministers in Doha finally agreed on the following:

“Recognizing the case for further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity building in this area, we agree that negotiations will take place after the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference on the basis of a decision to be taken, by explicit consensus, at that Session on modalities of negotiations. In the period until the Fifth Session, the Council for Trade in Goods shall review and as appropriate, clarify and improve relevant aspects of Articles V, VIII and X of the GATT 1994 and identify the trade facilitation needs and priorities of Members, in particular developing and least-developed countries. We commit ourselves to ensuring adequate technical assistance and support for capacity building in this area.”


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Papers submitted in 2001 back to top


Czech Republic

1 February 2001

National Experience by the Czech Republic



14 February 2001

National Experience of Guatemala



7 May 2001

Delivery of Technical Assistance and Capacity Building in Trade Facilitation — Australian Customs Experience


Costa Rica

17 May 2001

Trade Facilitation Experience Paper by Costa Rica