Opening statement at the Trade Facilitation Agreement Needs Assessments and Implementation Workshop for Pacific Islands by Shiu Raj, Director Economic Governance Programme



12-15 May 2014


12 - 15 May 2014


  • Senior Officials from the Forum Island Countries;
  • Representatives of Development Partners and International Organisations;
  • Representatives of our partners for this workshop – Mr Michael Kolie of the WTO, and Mr John Morley representing Australia;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, it is my privilege to extend to you a very warm welcome to this regional workshop on the Trade Facilitation Agreement Needs Assessment and Implementation.

2.       From the outset, let me thank the World Trade Organisation, the key technical partner for the Trade Facilitation Agreement needs assessment. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the WTO have in place a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in supporting the Pacific island countries in building their trade-related capacity. The two agencies have agreed to coordinate training and technical assistance activities at the regional level to assist Forum Island Countries enhance their institutional and human capacity in the field of trade. This workshop is a testimony of the joint effort of the two organisations.

3.       Let me also acknowledge the funding assistance provided by the Government of Australia through the WTO, and also by the European Union through the Pacific Integration Technical Assistance Programme (PITAP) to ensure that all Forum Island Countries get the opportunity to be part of this important workshop. Our profound gratitude goes to the governments and people of Australia and the European Union. This workshop is a testament of the partnership and collaborative effort between technical agencies and development partners.

4.       May I also extend our sincere gratitude to the representatives of the International Organisations and development partners for accepting our invitation to participate in this regional workshop and contribute to the discussions on trade facilitation. We look forward to your contribution to the discussion in the days ahead and your ongoing support in addressing trade facilitation needs of the Pacific region. We have invited all Forum Island Countries to this workshop given the importance of trade facilitation to each of our economies, but much of the technical work will be undertaken by the FIC-WTO Members at this workshop. Our joint engagement should assist the all the FICs in considering our trade facilitation needs as we also engage in the regional Aid for Trade Strategy and its implementation.

5.       The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation was endorsed at the WTO 9th Ministerial Conference (MC9) in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013. The Trade Facilitation Agreement was the key tangible agreement reached, together with other multilateral trade decisions on agriculture and development, including the measures for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that form part of the Bali Package.  The MC9 was hailed a success by many, given that a multilateral agreement was reached for the first time since the launch of the negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda in 2001.

6.       The Trade Facilitation Agreement will involve the simplification of customs procedures that will further reduce the barriers to cross-border movement of goods among the WTO Member countries. It will lower trade costs and thereby increase global trade and income.   An OECD analysis in 2013 which covered 133 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea from the region revealed that the TFA could greatly reduce trade cost and a 1% reduction in global trade cost would result in a US$40 billion increase in global income.  Further, the full implementation of the TFA is estimated to reduce total trade cost by 14.5% for low income countries (which includes Fiji & PNG), 15.5% for middle income countries and 13.2% for upper middle income countries.

7.       The Agreement on Trade Facilitation is also an innovative agreement divided into two sections.  The first section outlines the general obligations of Members and the second section provides the Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) provisions.  These SDT provisions allow developing and Least Developed Countries to determine or self-designate their implementation commitments in line with their domestic capacity, which make the Agreement unique to the rest of the WTO Agreements. These provisions address the development interest and capacity needs of the developing and LDC Members.  

8.       In line with the Bali Ministerial Declaration a Preparatory Committee on TF was established in January this year to undertake three specific tasks in operationalising the legal implementation of the TFA.  These tasks are: (i) to conduct legal review or legal scrubbing of the Agreement, which I understand was completed a week ago; (ii) to receive Notification of Category A Commitments by Members (These are TF activities that can be implemented immediately); and (iii) to adopt the Protocol of amendment (Protocol) to annex the TFA to the WTO Agreement.  With legal scrub completed, the work on developing the protocol will be pursued in May and June this year.  I am pleased to say that the Pacific region is the first in this series of the WTO TFNA workshop. The Bali Ministerial decisions require that all the above preparatory work be completed by 31 July 2014, following which the Agreement will be opened for acceptance by Members until 31 July 2015 when it is expected to enter into force if the sufficient number of ratification is received.

9.       In this context, this Workshop is therefore very timely in preparing the Pacific WTO members with their notifications and subsequent implementation of the Agreement.  The main objectives of the Workshop are to enable the Pacific Islands WTO Members to: (i) fully understand the Trade Facilitation Agreement; (ii) update their national Trade Facilitation Needs Assessment based on the TFA; (iii) assist Members with the categorisation of their implementation commitments in line with the flexibilities provided under the SDT provisions; and (iv) facilitate an initial dialogue with development partners and international agencies that provide technical, financial and capacity building assistance on Trade Facilitation.

10.     The first day of the Workshop will involve the presentations of the Bali MC9 decisions on Trade Facilitation and the Agreement on Trade Facilitation.  This will be followed by the Pacific Island Members working in groups to undertake their Needs Assessment of the TFA and categorisation of the implementation commitments.  Each FIC WTO member needs to have their 2013 working document of their TFNA, which will need to be revised during the workshop with Days 2 and 3 dedicated to national level discussions. We propose that the FIC non-WTO Members join one of the WTO Members in their discussions as observers on Day 2. This would assist in building our collective capacity on assessing trade facilitation needs.  At the end of the workshop, the Members will provide a summary of their Trade Facilitation Needs Assessment.  The workshop this week will build on the work undertaken in April 2013 in preparation for the MC9 meeting, under the guidance of trade facilitation experts.

11.     The expected outcomes of the Workshop are for the Pacific island Countries to: (i) gain a better understanding of the Agreement on Trade facilitation; (ii) complete their  Needs Assessment and have a report of their identified needs relating to implementation; and (ii) develop draft categories (A, B, C) of their implementation commitments and to have a better understanding of the types of technical, financial and capacity building assistance that are available from international partners.

12.     The outcomes of the Needs Assessment and draft categories of commitments are expected to be the basis of further national consultations in capitals and to assist members fulfil their notification obligations under WTO.

13.     We will have the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of the trade facilitation experts from technical agencies such as the WTO, World Bank, International Finance Cooperation, World Customs Organisation, UNCTAD, UNESCAP, and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) Secretariat of WTO. Our regional colleagues from the Oceania Customs Organisation, University of the South Pacific, Office of the Chief Trade Adviser and the MSG Secretariat are also present to assist in our discussions. Views and perspectives from the key development partners are important as we consider our trade facilitation needs. I am grateful that the key development partners supporting work on trade facilitation have joined us for this workshop.

14.     Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you well in your discussions over the next four days as we work collectively towards determining our trade facilitation needs and discuss possible modalities of implementation.

Thank you.

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