Published On: Sun, Dec 8th, 2013

World News: Historic Global Trade Agreement Adds $1 Trillion a Year to Economy

Ministers from 160 countries adopted a new World Trade Organization agreement on Saturday.
Ministerial Conference 2013
We did it ! / WTO ANTARA
The World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted an historic agreement on Saturday in Bali, when ministers from 159 countries adopted the first such deal for two decades,  that could contribute $1 trillion a year to the global economy.

The breakthrough at the meeting in Bali was reached after overcoming late objections from India and Cuba.

However, all the countries will have to ratify the agreement. The new trade agreement is considered a major achievement for the WTO, as it is the organization first global agreement since it was founded in 1995.

In the agreement:

Trad facilitation 

The trade facilitation decision is a multilateral deal to simplify customs procedures by reducing costs and improving their speed and efficiency. It will be a legally binding agreement and is one of the biggest reforms of the WTO since its establishment in 1995 — other agreements struck since then are on financial services and telecommunications, and among a subset of WTO members, and agreement on free trade in information technology products.

The objectives are: to speed up customs procedures; make trade easier, faster and cheaper; provide clarity, efficiency and transparency; reduce bureaucracy and corruption, and use technological advances. It also has provisions on goods in transit, an issue particularly of interest to landlocked countries seeking to trade through ports in neighbouring countries.

Part of the deal involves assistance for developing and least developed countries to update their infrastructure, train customs officials, or for any other cost associated with implementing the agreement.

The benefits to the world economy are calculated to be between $ 400 billion and $1 trillion by reducing costs of trade by between 10% and 15%, increasing trade flows and revenue collection, creating a stable business environment and attracting foreign investment.

The text adopted in Bali is not final, although the substance will not change. It will be checked and corrected to ensure the language is legally correct, aiming for the General Council to adopt it by 31 July 2014.

 

Agriculture and cotton

Agreement on the agriculture part of the Bali Package required sorting out two issues. Much of the focus was on shielding public stockholding programmes for food security in developing countries, so that they would not be challenged legally even if a country’s agreed limits for trade-distorting domestic support were breached.

The proposed solution will be interim, and much of the discussion was about what would happen at the end of the interim period. The outcome of consultations was for the interim solution to exist until a permanent one is agreed, with a work programme set up aiming to produce a permanent solution in four years.

The other issue was about “tariff quota administration“, how a specific type of import quota (a “tariff quota” where volumes inside the quota have a lower duty) is to be handled when the quota is persistently under-filled. Members have agreed on a combination of consultation and providing information when quotas are under-filled. The one remaining issue to be settled was which countries would reserve the right not to apply the system after six years: they will be Barbados, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and the US.

Meanwhile, three texts remained unchanged from the versions negotiated in Geneva. One is on adding some development and land-use programmes to the list of general services that are candidates for being allowed without limit because they cause little trade distortion.

Another is a strong political statement to ensure export subsidies and other measures with similar effect are low. A third deals with improving market access for cotton products from least developed countries, and with development assistance for production in those countries.

 

Development issues

Four documents remained unchanged from their Geneva versions.

  • Duty-free, quota-free access for least developed countries to export to richer countries’ markets. Many countries have already implemented this, and the decision says countries that have not done so for at least 97% of products “shall seek to” improve the number of products covered.
  • Simplified preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, making it easier for these countries to identify products as their own goods, and qualify for preferential treatment in importing countries.
  • A “services waiver”, allowing least developed countries preferential access to richer countries’ services markets.
  • “monitoring mechanism” consisting of meetings and other methods for monitoring special treatment given to developing countries.

 

Decisions on the WTO’s regular work

The Ministerial Conference adopted five decisions on the WTO’s regular work. They can be found here. They are the following:

In intellectual property, members agreed not to bring “non-violation” cases to the WTO dispute settlement process — “non-violation“ is shorthand for the technical question of whether there can be legal grounds for complaint about loss of an expected right under the WTO’s intellectual property agreement, even when the agreement has not been violated.

A similar extension was agreed in electronic commerce, members agreed not to charge import duties on electronic transmissions. The Work Programme also encourages continued discussions on electronic commerce in relation to commercial issues, development and new technology.

Ministers decided to give special consideration to issues of small economies. Ministers instructed the Committee on Trade and Development to consider proposals on small economies and make recommendations to the General Council.

Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to Aid for Trade, an initiative that assists developing countries, and in particular least developed countries, trade. They welcomed progress on Aid for Trade since its launch in 2005 and mandated the Director-General to continue support of the programme.

Ministers directed their Geneva delegations to continue examining the link between trade and transfer of technology and make possible recommendations on steps that might be taken to increase flows of technology to developing countries. The mandate was given at the 2001 Doha declaration.

Chairman Gita Wirjawan, Indonesia’s trade minister: ‘We did it!’

Fellow Ministers, ladies and gentlemen — we did it!

We achieved what many said could not be done.

 

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