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Trade facilitation

Trade facilitation—the simplification, modernization and harmonization of export and import processes—has emerged as an important issue for the world trading system, especially since conclusion of negotiations at the 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference on the landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA. The TFA contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit and sets out measures for effective cooperation between customs and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues. It further contains provisions for technical assistance and capacity building in this area. In reaffirming the commitments to strengthen the multilateral trading system, the Addis Agenda calls on WTO Members to fully and expeditiously implement the ministerial declarations and decisions agreed at the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference, called the Bali Package. The TFA, one of the major components of the Bali Package, sets forth a series of measures for expeditiously moving goods across borders. On 22 February 2017 WTO obtained the necessary number of acceptance instruments for the TFA to enter into force.

Table: Acceptances of Protocol of Amendment to insert the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement into Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement

Region  Number of WTO Members
Europe 36
Northern America 2
Sub-Saharan Africa 20
Nortern Africa 0
Latin America and the Caribbean 20
Asia 33
Oceania 2

Source: World Trade Organisation

The TFA is unique in that it allows developing and least-developed countries to set their own timetables for implementing the TFA depending on their capacities to do so. 

Developed countries have committed to immediately implement the Agreement, which sets out a broad series of trade facilitation reforms. Spread out over 12 articles, the TFA prescribes many measures to improve transparency and predictability of trading across borders and to create a less discriminatory business environment. The TFA's provisions include improvements to the availability and publication of information about cross-border procedures and practices, improved appeal rights for traders, reduced fees and formalities connected with the import/export of goods, faster clearance procedures and enhanced conditions for freedom of transit for goods. The Agreement also contains measures for effective cooperation between customs and other authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues.
Developing countries, in comparison, will immediately apply only the TFA provisions they have designated as “Category A” commitments. So far, notifications of Category A commitments have already been provided by 90 WTO members. For the other provisions of the Agreement, they must indicate when these will be implemented and what capacity building support is needed to help them implement these provisions, known as Category B and C commitments. These can be implemented at a later date with least-developed countries given more time to notify these commitments. 
Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF)

A Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) was created at the request of developing and least-developed countries to help ensure they receive the assistance needed to reap the full benefits of the TFA and to support the ultimate goal of full implementation of the new agreement by all members. The TFAF will provide two types of grants to developing and LDC Members notifying Category C commitments. Project preparation grants and project implementation grants will be available after the Agreement enters into force. Members may apply for these grants where no other funding source is available to meet their needs. More information on the WTO and trade facilitation is available here.