The Office of the United States Trade Representative

Update from Hong Kong: Trade Facilitation

Background on Trade Facilitation

The United States has been working closely with key trading partners of all development levels to move the Trade Facilitations forward.  Red tape and unnecessary formalities at the border can wipe away any gains made in improving market access through lower tariffs, and uncertainty about import requirements, hidden fees, and slow border release times are among the non-tariff barriers most frequently cited by exporters worldwide.  The negotiations are addressing these matters head-on.

Small and medium-sized exporters are particularly harmed by opaque customs procedures, or an unexpected inability to get custom clearance of a critical shipment to an important customer in an international market.  The negotiations are on course for results that could decrease costs and enhance market access opportunities for small businesses, and improve the ability of small businesses to be full participants in the global market place.

A real development boost could also result from the Trade Facilitation negotiations, bringing about results that will diminish corruption and improve border efficiencies—key elements for full participation in today’s global just-in-time economy.  The need for rules-based reform at the border has historically held back growth in trade between developing countries.  In this context, the negotiations are also aimed at improving the effectiveness of the vast amounts of technical assistance being provided in this area

Results from Hong Kong

Ministers at Hong Kong set the stage for intensifying the WTO negotiations on Trade Facilitation (TF) and moving toward a conclusion in 2006.  Significantly, the ministers endorsed recommendations by the Trade Facilitation Negotiating Group.

The WTO negotiations on Trade Facilitation were launched as part of the Doha round of negotiations, in accordance with a decision taken by Members in July 2004.  The negotiations are aimed at clarifying and improving the WTO rules governing customs procedures, with the objective to enhance the transparency and efficiency of how goods cross the border.  The negotiating mandate also includes work on enhancing technical assistance and improving cooperation between customs authorities.

The current WTO rules governing border procedures date back to 1947, and are ripe for updating and modernizing through the ongoing negotiations.  More than 50 proposals for new rules have been submitted.  Examples include providing for the use the Internet to make more easily available the importing requirements of WTO Members, establishing expedited treatment for express shipments, and improving procedural fairness for traders.