Trade facilitation refers to the simplification and harmonisation of international trade procedures to assist the movement of goods. Customs, licensing and transit formalities involve complicated administrative processes and burdensome documentation requirements. Businesses can suffer significant losses as the result of complicated or unnecessary, procedures.
In recognition of the significant potential benefits of reducing red tape barriers to international trade, WTO Members concluded the Agreement on Trade Facilitation at the Ninth Ministerial Conference on 7 December 2013 in Bali. As the first major agreement concluded since the establishment of the WTO in 1995, the Agreement on Trade Facilitation is a significant milestone. The Agreement is designed to deliver practical measures to strengthen global trade and economic growth. In undertaking the Agreement's obligations. WTO Members will remove the regulatory and procedural burdens traders face when conducting international trade, by harmonising and streamlining global customs procedures and making trade regulations more transparent.
At a WTO General Council meeting on 27 November 2014, WTO Members agreed to adopt the Protocol to implement the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF). The ATF will now formally enter into force after it has been accepted by two thirds of WTO Members.
As with all proposed treaties, the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) would need to review the Agreement. The Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon. Andrew Robb MP, tabled the Agreement [PDF] in Parliament on 18 June 2014. Subject to domestic approval processes, Australia would be looking to formally accept the ATF and notify the WTO by the middle of 2015.
Globally, the agreement will provide a major boost for jobs and growth. The OECD has estimated [PDF] that full implementation of the agreement could reduce the costs of trading across borders by up to 10 per cent for developed economies.
Australian negotiators, led by DFAT representatives at Australia's WTO mission in Geneva, played a pivotal role in securing the successful conclusion of this agreement after almost 10 years of negotiations. Australia played a particularly important role in co-sponsoring and pushing for obligations to provide advance rulings and to prioritise the clearance of perishable goods. Implementation of these obligations by WTO Members will provide significant benefits to Australian exporters.
Two-thirds of the expected benefits of the Agreement are anticipated to flow towards developing countries. The full implementation of the agreement by developing countries will boost economic growth and create millions of jobs. Australia is working to assist developing countries to implement the agreement.