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New Guide will assist countries in implementing the provisions of the WTO Trade ‎Facilitation Agreement

Implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) can play a key role in restoring global trade disrupted during the COVID-19 crisis and can assist in preventing future disruptions. This multilateral agreement consists of a range of provisions from customs procedures to cross-border regulations. Implementation of these provisions may not be straightforward especially for developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Understanding the scope and legal and regulatory implications of the Agreement are the primary hurdles that must be addressed before the provisions are practically implemented.

The Guide ‘Getting Down To Business: Making the Most of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement’ launched by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in cooperation with UNECE and UNCTAD is a response to this need. The Guide will assist policymakers and traders to understand the benefits, legal obligations and key factors for the successful implementation of each measure in the Agreement. It provides technical notes and guidelines for step-by-step national implementation plans and checklists to ensure compliance for each measure.

The publication is timely as countries adopt measures to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTO projects that in 2020, exports and imports in Europe will decline by 10.3% to 32.8%, and by 8% to 22.6% respectively for member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The pandemic hence stresses the importance of implementing trade facilitation measures and calls for redoubling efforts to introduce the WTO TFA measures.

Enacting measures related to the publication and availability of information and acceptance of pre-arrival forms in electronic format contributes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, while new measures on expedited shipments, formalities and documentation requirements make a longstanding impact by increasing efficiency, while also limiting physical contact at customs. In the middle to long-term, the implementation of trade facilitation measures can foster the post-COVID-19 recovery by allowing transparency and allowing businesses to partake in international trade.

This new publication provides a detailed explanation of every article of the TFA and outlines key elements, legal regulations and practical steps which should be taken by the member States to successfully integrate the trade facilitation measures into the national legal framework and to streamline countries’ efforts in creating a conducive trade environment.

This guide also includes best practices, which can assist policymakers in making an informed decision based on the successful practices of partner counties in critical areas such as custom risk management, pre-arrival processing of goods, and single window platforms; This will be of special interest to UNECE member States since it provides countries with the tools to link their implementation strategies to donor assistance.

The cost-effective approach described in the report will assist WTO Member States, in particular developing countries and economies in transition, in understanding the legal foundations of the agreement.  

UN/CEFACT Recommendations and standards complement this report by providing guidance on key elements of the TFA. For example, Recommendation and Guidelines on establishing a Single Window assist countries in fulfilling article 10.4 on Single Window, while Recommendation on National Trade Facilitation Bodies provides a detailed description of the necessary steps to establish a Trade Facilitation Committee as well as a set of model terms of references as required by the TFA article 23.1. These tools used together with the Guide to Drafting a National Trade Facilitation Roadmap will help developing countries and countries with economies in transition to undertake trade facilitation reforms, planning the necessary Trade Facilitation actions and attract donor assistance to develop them.