Mind the (implementation) Gap ... in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

14 June 2019

Written by: Arántzazu Sánchez, Article No. 36 [UNCTAD Transport and Trade Facilitation Newsletter N°82 - Second Quarter 2019]

“How is a country going to notify the contact details of the Enquiry Point by December 2022, if they have indicated in their notification to the WTO that their Enquiry Point will be implemented by the end of 2025?” This question popped in my mind while revising the latest notifications of one of the countries I am currently providing technical assistance to. I started digging into this issue, to find out, that in fact this situation happens often. Let’s try to understand it and shed some light on this issue.

Understanding Article 1.4 on Notifications

According to Article 1.4 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, each Member shall notify to the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation of the official location and contact information related to measures pertaining to publication, information through Internet, and enquiry points.

Thus, the notification to the WTO Trade Facilitation Committee, as per requirement of Article 1.4 of the Agreement, covers the following aspects:

  • Information about the official places where the information listed in Article 1.1 on Publication (see box) has been published.

  • The URL of the websites where the trade-related information accounted for in Article 1.2 on Information Available Through Internet has been placed; this includes description of import, export & transit procedures and practical steps required, procedures for appeal or review, forms and documents as well as contact information on enquiry points.

  • Contact details of all the enquiry points established under Article 1.3.

By gathering all this data in a single place and make it available for the public domain in a coordinated manner, this measure aims at ensuring that the principle of access to information is effective and functioning among all WTO Members. All the addresses related to the notifications provided by Member States are being uploaded by the WTO in the WTO Database of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.


Sequencing within Article 1 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement

In that sense, from reading Article 1, it seems that the implementation of Article 1.4 is subject to the implementation of Articles 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3. In other words, a country will not be able to notify to the WTO the official places, URLs and contact details of its enquiry point(s), if those places, URLs and enquiry point(s) have not been set-up yet. However, countries’ approaches to this notification differ. Here is a list of the cases I found:

Case 1: Compliance without complying

A total of 58 developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have notified Article 1.4 as category A (meaning, this measure was implemented by the entry into force of the Agreement), however, only 21 of these countries (36%) have indeed implemented it by sending the required information (URL, contact details, etc.) to the WTO. Put differently, only 37 countries affirm to have implemented a measure without providing the WTO corresponding official notification.

Case 2: In fact, it is done, but I might have forgotten to tell you

Almost a third of developing countries and LDCs (34 countries out of 114) have categorized as A, all four provisions under Article 1. This means that laws and regulations listed in Article 1.1 have been published, forms and documents can also be found on the internet (Article 1.2) and working enquiry points are in place to address the queries of traders, government and other interested parties on those matters (Article 1.3). Although everything seems to be implemented for those 34 countries, almost half of them (16 out of 34) have not sent the official notification to the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation, as per Article 1.4.

Case 3: Back to the future

As already mentioned in the introduction to this article, some countries have indicated longer periods for implementation of Publication, Information available on the Internet or Enquiry point, to fulfil the requirements of Article 1.4 on Notifications. As explained, when considering logical sequencing, countries should only categorize 1.4 as A, once they have implemented the rest of the provisions of Article 1 and they are able to send the required information to the WTO. This logic should also be taken into consideration when notifying estimates and definitive dates for implementation.

Case 4: Leading by example

Five countries are worth mentioning for their commitment to enhancing transparency in trade procedures. Argentina, Belize, Kazakhstan, Saint Lucia and Ukraine have already sent some information, URLs and/or contact details of enquiry points, to the WTO. They do not consider having fulfil completely any of the measures of Article 1 and have categorized all four of them as B or C. Nevertheless, they decided to present to WTO, the data that is available at this stage. By doing so, they are sending a strong message to the international community: we are trying our best to comply with this Agreement and our notification obligations as and when we can.

Lessons learned

Think twice before notifying any provision as A

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement does not grant any possibility of shifting to B or C, a provision that was previously categorized as A. Therefore, it is extremely important for countries to be certain about the status of implementation of a measure before categorizing it as A.

In case of doubt regarding Article 1.4, opt for plan B

For developing and least developed countries that have notified any of the provisions of Article 1 as B or C, it is advisable to rather opt to categorize Article 1.4 as B. A country might need technical and / or financial assistance to make sure trade procedures, laws and regulations are published and online and its enquiry point is running. But once those are implemented, fulfilling Article 1.4 is not that challenging anymore. You only have to download the template available at the WTO site and fill it in with the information you have already gathered to be able to affirm that you are in compliance with Articles 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 of the Agreement. To make sure all national public and private stakeholders agree with the information gathered, the notification template could be validated by the National Trade Facilitation Committee before submitting it to the WTO. 

Be careful when setting definitive dates for implementation

As explained, if you are categorizing Article 1.4 as B or C, its definitive date for implementation should always be later than the dates you notified for Articles 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3, as you will only be able to fulfil the requirements of this measure, once you have implemented the other three provisions of Article 1.

When in doubt, ask for advice

Developing and least developed countries should not hesitate to share their notification templates with Trade Facilitation experts of developing agencies such as UNCTAD or the WTO Secretariat before officially submitting it. They could help them identify any incongruencies in the categorization or sequences indicated for the implementation of the provisions of the Agreement. Never forget, we are here to help!

For further information, contact Arantzazu Sanchez:

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