The WTO agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property, spelling out the principles of liberalization of their trade and the permitted exceptions, including individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and other trade barriers and to open their services markets. These agreements are not static; they are renegotiated from time to time and new agreements can be added to the package. Governments are required to make their trade policies transparent by notifying the WTO about laws in force and measures adopted and member countries must undergo periodic scrutiny of their trade policies and practices.
In 2016 the WTO has welcomed its 163rd and 164th members, respectively Liberia and Afghanistan. With these latest two additions, the WTO has successfully completed 36 accessions since its establishment in 1995; 9 of which acceded as LDCs. WTO accession negotiations advance on the basis of three interdependent tracks – with multilateral, bilateral, and in many cases, plurilateral processes running in parallel. Separately, there are domestic processes in the acceding governments to establish national negotiating positions and to decide on inputs. In 2016, there was mixed progress in the 19 on-going accessions. Some advanced whereas others did not advance, as planned. A range of factors, as in the past, remain in play. They include, but are not limited to, continued negotiations with Members; technical complexities; domestic challenges; political choices to delay for more impact analysis; re ordered priorities; and/or immediate post-conflict situations. With respect to six on-going accessions of LDCs, positive developments have been registered in the accessions of Comoros and Sudan. In 2016, there were two requests to join the WTO pursuant to Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO. The general-Council considered these requests at its December 2016 meeting and decided on the establishment of accession working parties for these two LDC applicants.
Of the 2,978 trade-restrictive measures put in place by WTO members since 2008, only 740 had been removed by mid-October 2016. The overall stock of measures has increased by almost 17 per cent compared to the previous annual overview, with the total number of restrictive measures still in place now standing at 2,238.
At the same time, WTO members have continued to adopt trade-facilitating measures. Members implemented 216 new trade-facilitating measures during the period under review — an average of 18 measures per month, slightly above the average 2009-2015 trend. These include a number of import-liberalizing measures implemented in the context of the expanded Information Technology Agreement.
Among the various types of NTMs, technical barriers (TBT), which include measures such as product safety standards, are most frequently used across products representing almost 40 per cent of tariff lines (Frequency Index) and over 50 per cent of world trade (Coverage Ratio). Across product categories, over 60 per cent of agricultural products traded in world are subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures in importing countries.
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- Vanzetti, D., R. Peters and C. Knebel (2016) "Sand in the Wheels: Non-tariff measures and regional integration in SADC", UNCTAD Policy Issues in International Trade and Commodities, Study Series No. 71, UNCTAD/ITCD/TAB/73
- Nicita, A. (2011) “Measuring the relative strength of preferential market access”, UNCTAD Policy Issues in International Trade and Commodities, Study Series No. 47, UNCTAD/ITCD/TAB/48
- UNCTAD (2015a) "Non-Tariff Measures and Sustainable Development Goals: Direct and indirect linkages", UNCTAD Policy Brief, No. 37
- UNCTAD (2015b) "Non-Tariff Measures and Regional Integration in the Southern African Development Community", UNCTAD/DITC/TAB/2014/5
- UNCTAD (2015c) "Non-Tariff Measures to Trade: Economic and Policy Issues for Developing Countries", Developing Countries in International Trade Studies, UNCTAD/DITC/TAB/2012/1
- ITC (2015), The invisible barriers to trade – How Businesses Experience Non-Tariff Measures