Article 10.4: Single Window
What is covered?
Article 10.4 demands Member States to strive to establish or maintain a Single Window system, which allows traders to submit through a single entry point the following formalities connected to importation, exportation or transit of goods:
- Documentation and/or
- Data requirements.
Once submitted to the single-entry point, these requirements are at the complete disposal of all the concerned governmental authorities for evaluation, the results
Aimed at expediting and streamlining the processing of export, import and transit documentation, this Measure obliges WTO Members to make any reasonable effort to establish or maintain a Single Window (SW). The SW serves as a single entry point for traders to submit the required documentation and/or data requirements connected to importation, exportation or transit of goods to the relevant authorities.
In light of its best-endeavour nature – “shall endeavour” – this Measure requires Members at least to attempt to implement the provisions under consideration in a credible and consistent manner. Nonetheless, Members are not legally bound to achieve the specific outcome of the action fostered, that is, the actual establishment or maintenance of the SW.
When a SW system is in place, however, Members bear the obligation to process the documentation received and communicate the results of the evaluation to the applicant through the SW in a timely manner, so as to ensure that traders do not incur in costly red tape and bureaucratic delays.
Avoidance of redundancies and exception to the rule
Paragraph 4.2 requires Members to ensure that traders are not over-burdened by redundant procedural requirements needed to trade across borders. In this regard, the Measure obliges Members to make arrangements such that their agencies do not request traders to provide for a second time documents or data requirements that have already been submitted through the SW. In light of this provision, customs and other governmental authorities must not demand economic operators to submit the same documentation and necessary information again, if these have already been provided through the single entry point.
However, the Measure allows for a specific exception to this rule under certain circumstances. In fact, Members are allowed to request traders to re-submit documents and data requirements only in situations broadly categorised under “urgent circumstances and other limited exceptions which are made public”.
The specification of "urgent circumstances and other limited exceptions" as an acceptable basis for requesting economic operators to re-submit the same documentation and data requirements should call for a restrictive interpretation of these criteria in order not to undermine the purpose and function of the Single Window.
In any case, the requirement to make these urgent circumstances and exceptions public is aimed at limiting their occurrence to reasonable, justifiable and demonstrable causes, while at the same time ensuring the highest degree of transparency – one of the core principles of the TFA.
Informing the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation
The Measure also states that Members are obliged to keep the WTO informed on their SW’s operation details through notifications to the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation. As a mandatory provision, Members countries are hence required to keep the WTO Committee on Trade Facilitation updated about progress on the Single Window’s setting-up.
Use of Information Technology
The last Paragraph of Article 10.4 requires Members to avail themselves of information technology to support the establishment and maintenance of the SW. In fact, trade information exchange between participants in the trade process achieved through ICT tools enables traders to fulfil their procedural requirements in time and cost-efficient manner.
However, the use of the qualifying words “to the extent possible and practicable” introduces a wide degree of flexibility for Members. In particular, the addition of attenuating terms allows Members to implement this provision only partially in terms of scope, coverage and technical capacity, scaling down the peremptory nature of the obligation.
What is not covered?
The Measure does not detail how to establish a fully-fledged SW, providing space for Members to progressively and gradually guide the transition of all procedures and agencies to the Single Window system on the basis of the means and resources at their disposal.
Similarly, the timeline for setting up an operational SW and a mechanism for maintaining the system are left for countries to determine, depending on the capacity of participating agencies to integrate ICT. Moreover, the use of relevant international standards is not mandatory as a basis for setting up SW schemes.
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