PUBLISHED ON November 13th, 2014

WTO’s trade facilitation pact not balanced with development agenda

Tanzania’s senior official at the permanent mission in Geneva, Switzerland, Prisca Mutani, has said that the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) as a legally binding pact is not balanced in a manner consistent with the development agenda.

In her presentation paper at the Third Regional Meeting of the PACT EAC Project in Bujumbura, Burundi, Mutani said that the TFA has no binding commitment on the question of technical assistance and capacity building as it lacks clarity on source of funds, and terms of accessing the same.

“Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility was launched by the WTO but it only addresses assistance on soft projects such as workshops, needs assessments and other related aspects,” she said. She went on to say that the system must work for all and not just for selected few and for the timely correction of any imbalance or abnormalities in the system or its rules is critical.

“If the system fails to function in a fair and just manner then the most vulnerable sections of the world’s population would be left behind.

She added: “The other challenge that is emerging is the Plurilateralisation of the TFA due to the failure to adopt the Protocol of Amendment of which this is being opposed by some of the developing countries including the African Group and the LDCs claiming that these are isolationist in nature and undermine multilateralism”.

She pointed out that the African ministers in various African Ministerial Conferences took a stand against plurilateral approaches and so far there has been no consensus on these issues and consultations are still going on.

She concluded that the biggest challenge with the architecture of negotiations within WTO is the inability of members to meaningfully address issues of specific importance to developing countries and LDCs. “The notion of the winner takes all is supreme and the principle of consensus still remains to be the biggest gift to weak and poor countries and must be safeguarded,” she said.

WTO members formally agreed to launch negotiations on Trade Facilitation in 2004 pursuant to the July 2004 Framework Package. This was part of the four Singapore issues along with Investment; Government Procurement and Competition Policy. Main Proponents were the major Developed Countries while many Developing Countries took a defensive position.

The TF negotiations focused on measures and policies intended for simplification, harmonization and standardization of boarder procedures The negotiations did not address priorities for increasing and facilitating trade infrastructure, building productive and trade capacity, marketing networks and enhancing inter regional trade Instead the negotiations were geared towards facilitating imports for countries that upgrade their facilities as an expansion of exports capability that require a different type of facilitation involving improving supply capacity and access to markets.

The TFA was adopted as part of the Bali package at the conclusion of the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference on 07 December 2013 in Bali Indonesia. The TF Prepcom met thrice to consider this matter: 26-28 of May, 02-03; 10 -11 July 2014 before summer break, and once thereafter on 29 September 2014. It could not reach consensus in all these meetings.

Members agreed to finalize work related to the Agreement by establishing a Preparatory Committee on Trade Facilitation. Ministers directed that the Protocol shall enter into force in accordance with Article X: 3 of the WTO Agreement. Some Members have already notified Category A commitments while others are still making the submissions.

Ministers in Bali had the chance to draft a full Protocol of Amendment and open it for acceptance However, The PACT EAC project consists of two separate but synergetic segments for human and institutional capacity building of East African Community (EAC) stakeholders. The two segments focus on issues related to trade-climate change-food security linkages and WTO discussions/negotiations, respectively.

Through research-based advocacy, networking, training and by linking grassroots with Geneva, the project assists EAC stakeholders in better understanding and dealing with the critical challenges of climate change on food security, and effective participation in the multilateral trading system, with the ultimate objective of alleviating poverty in the EAC.

Source: IPP Media

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