With the text of the WTO TFA being adopted many governments ask themselves if they are ready to implement the reforms. The attention of policy makers has shifted from negotiating to implementation and enforcement. Most often the key concern is not the technicalities of the concepts and solutions, but rather the process and engagement of all stakeholders. Trade facilitation is by its very nature a policy area that cuts across organisational and ministerial portfolios. A successful trade facilitation reform rests upon a partnership between government agencies and the stakeholders, including traders and intermediaries.
The key question therefore is how to implement trade facilitation in an integrated and comprehensive manner?
Past experiences with trade facilitation programs and policies point to the usefulness of setting up a cross-government body that drives the reforms on a strategic and often also technical level. IMO was the first body to build cross-government implementation bodies into the FAL Convention and UN/CEFACT drafted the first recommendation on trade facilitation bodies, the Rec. No.4, in 1974 (updated in 2015).
Many of such trade facilitation bodies have been set up in the past, and some of them are believed to have been successful examples of a whole of government approach to trade facilitation with active engagement with non-governmental stakeholders. The WTO TFA echoes the importance of a whole of government approach and requires Members to set up a national trade facilitation committee (Article 23.2) “to facilitate both domestic coordination and implementation of the provisions of the TFA.”
Such national committees have always been a feature of trade facilitation and the focus of trade facilitation reforms should not just be the implementation of the WTO TFA. But the WTO TFA provides a new and strong driver for line ministries to get engaged and make coordination and consultation work.
There are many challenges to make a whole-of-government and private-public trade facilitation approach work. The multitude and variety of stakeholders with competing imperatives is one challenge. Addressing both design and delivery, and strategic and technical aspects of trade facilitation reforms, another.
To make it work, governments should carefully consider organizational aspects, such as the structure and resources of such bodies, and adopt principles that foster a cooperative culture and trust. The revised UN/CEFACT Recommendation No.4 and the new UN/CEFACT Recommendation No. 40 provide guidance on these two aspects. Governments can also take inspiration from existing case studies (TFIG Pakistan, TFIG Thailand, TFIG Brazil) or consult the UNCTAD repository, the ITC handbook to find examples of existing trade facilitation bodies.
There are many benefits of a whole-of-government private-public approach to trade facilitation reforms. The objective is to achieve a shared goal and an integrated government response to trade facilitation. This will contribute to the implementation of the WTO TFA and deliver the expected gains from trade facilitation for both governments and the business community.