The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

With the Agreement on Trade Facilitation, WTO members established a new legal framework for trade facilitation reforms. The Agreement contains three sections:

  • Section I with the substantive obligations, including amongst others, obligations on publication and access to trade related information, appeal procedures, the simplification of trade procedures and goods clearance processes, agency cooperation, as well as cross-border customs cooperation.
  • Section II includes the provisions on special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed country members as well as the provision of technical assistance and capacity building.
  • Section III is made up of two Articles addressing institutional arrangements and final provisions, such as the relationship with the other WTO Agreements, and the accession process of Members to the Agreement after entry into force.

Negotiating process

The Agreement is the successful conclusion of a long negotiating process that started at the first WTO Singapore Ministerial Conference in 1996, and lead to the inclusion of trade facilitation into the agenda of the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations in 2001.
The substantial negotiations process on trade facilitation started in August 2004 with the mandate to:

  • clarify and improve relevant aspects of the GATT Article V, GATT Article VIII, and GATT Article X with a view to further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods,
  • draft provisions for effective cooperation between Customs and other agencies on trade facilitation and Customs compliance issues, and
  • enhance technical assistance and capacity building in this area.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement is the only new Agreement that has emerged from the Doha Round of Negotiations. It is therefore important to place the Agreement and its negotiating process in a historical context to understand how and why Members found consensus on this issue. In fact, support was not univocal. A majority of developing country members only rallied behind the negotiations against commitments that the implementation of the Agreement would take into account their resources constraints and specific needs.