Overview of trade facilitation work in the WTO

Work on trade facilitation in the WTO has passed through several distinct stages. In this process, Members' focus shifted from a fairly broad and comprehensive approach to a more specific emphasis on customs and border-crossing procedures.

Trade facilitation work in the area has been carried out by organizations such as UNCTAD, UN ECE (now through UN/CEFACT) or the WCO for several decades. Steadily growing volumes of trade, together with tariff levels at an all-time low after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round and modern technology available to significantly improve the management of cross-border trade and distribution of goods have lately created a strong interest from international business in the improvement of the infrastructure for international trade. The losses that businesses suffer through delays at borders, opaque and often redundant documentation requirements and lack of automation of government mandated trade procedures are estimated to exceed in many cases the costs of tariffs.

Specific elements connected with the simplification and harmonization of trade procedures are already contained in the WTO legal framework, e.g., in Articles V, VII, VIII, X of the GATT 1994 as well as the in Agreements on Customs Valuation, Import Licensing, Preshipment Inspection, Rules of Origin, Technical Barriers to Trade, and the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. However, only the Singapore Ministerial Conference gave the WTO the mandate to take a more comprehensive look at trade facilitation.


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