The implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement in LDCs will require capacity building and technical assistance, for which major investments are needed. Although developed countries have committed to provide assistance for these investments, the costs for developing countries and LDCs might be high and the benefits will only materialize gradually over time. At the 15th EAC Geneva Forum, EAC WTO negotiators discussed the challenges that their countries could face in implementing the agreement and different alternatives to overcome them. The meeting also took stock of the implementation status of several ongoing advocacy campaigns in the EAC for improved policy synergies on climate, food security and trade issues.
Implementation status of several ongoing advocacy campaigns
In the beginning of the meeting, delegates were updated on recent and forthcoming project activities, which include: (i) holding of five National Reference Groups of the East African Community (EAC) last March 2014 to discuss advocacy campaigns that the five East African Countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) have conducted recently; (ii) the finalisation of a research study on the impact of EAC trade reforms on the regions’ food security which will be launched at the PACT EAC international conference to be held by the end of June 2014; (iii) the preparation of training workshops to be held in the forthcoming months to keep on increasing the knowledge of EAC relevant stakeholder on agriculture, climate and trade linkages, and finally; (iv) the beginning of an external evaluation of the PACT EAC project which might lead external evaluators to seek delegates’ views about the impact of PACT EAC project impact on their country, their mission, and the EAC in general.
Country update notes which are regularly prepared by each country partner to contribute to the project were presented at the meeting. Based on the recommendations made in their respective national studies on climate, trade and agriculture linkages, the five country notes aimed at presenting the key recommendations that were selected by each country for their respective national advocacy campaigns.In Burundi for example, the national campaign was focusing on Agro-climatic information and early warnings, in Kenya on enhancing early warning system, in Rwanda on promoting inclusiveness in the National Trade Policy Forum for climate smart agriculture, in Tanzania on supporting forest conservation campaigns and finally in Uganda on promoting coherence in trade negotiations.
Finally, the five countries produced and are disseminating Actions Alerts/Policy Briefs produced under the campaign during the National Reference Group Meetings, where more inputs were/are being generated from members. Besides, the country update notes examine these campaigns and their features in a regional perspective to promote regional development by linking the three issues of climate agriculture and trade.
Implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement
A regular note discussing one or several WTO issue(s), identified this time the potential challenges and costs that developing and least developed countries might face when implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), and the possible solutions to cope with them.
Although it is generally agreed that trade facilitation might bring many economic benefits for both importing and exporting countries, developing countries and LDCs will have to incur large costs to secure these benefits. In addition, the TFA does not include binding obligations for provision of financial and technical assistance by developed countries or international organizations. Difficulties may hence arise while implementing costly provisions.
Importantly, the WTO issue note include recommendations on ways forward to adequately classify the TFA’s provisions in Category A, B or C, and to include binding obligations to provide assistance and support for capacity building.
After the presentation of the above updates and documents started a discussion on these topics, and focused on the preparation of the TFA, which is the most imminent challenge for the EAC.
As the WTO recently invited delegates to train cross-border professionals and country Member’s delegates about Trade Facilitation measures in the forthcoming months, the delegate of Burundi suggested to send trainees on behalf of the EAC rather than individually, in the view of creating a regional Trade Facilitation Committee (TFC).
Although time being a critical issue in creating such committees, it has been stressed that creating awareness in-country about the importance of TF is important. Creating a regional TFC, albeit difficult because of country specificities, might indeed be an ideal solution which deserves extended discussions within the EAC. The TFA provides an opportunity that the EAC should seize to move forward together.