The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reached its first ever
major global reform deal since the organization was established in
1995. On December 7, 2013, the WTO's 159 ministers voted to
accept the package, which could add up to USD $1 trillion to the
global economy, including by facilitating trade through clarified
and improved customs practices.
The Bali Package focuses on two broad categories of issues. The
first part deals with trade facilitation (via customs reform),
agriculture, cotton, development and issues pertaining to the
least-developed countries. The second part adopts five decisions of
the WTO's ministers regarding the General Council's
In terms of trade facilitation, the Bali Package aims to cut red
tape and speed up port clearances. The trade facilitation component
will be a legally binding agreement. Specific customs related
obligations that have been improved or clarified include:
Prompt publication and availability of information such as
importation, exportation and transit procedures, rates of duties
and taxes, and laws and regulations in an easily accessible
Providing opportunities to traders and other interested parties
to comment on the proposed introduction or amendment of laws and
regulations related to the movement, release and clearance of
Rights to appeal or review administrative customs
Disciplines on fees and charges imposed on or in connection
with importation and exportation;
Obligations relating to the release and clearance of goods such
as establishing procedures for the processing of import
documentation prior to the arrival of goods; and
Measures designed to improve the freedom of transit such as
prohibitions against transit regulations.
These clarifications and improvements should benefit Canadian
businesses with significant export components, especially ones who
export to a wide array of countries and who have encountered
difficulties or delays with international shipments and customs
clearance of their products.
The Bali Package also includes a political commitment to reduce
export subsidies in agriculture and keep them at low levels, and to
reduce obstacles to trade when agricultural products are imported
The Bali Package also adopts five decisions of WTO's
ministers in certain key areas, as part of WTO's regular work
under the General Council. First, in intellectual property, members
agreed not to bring "non-violation" cases to the WTO
dispute settlement process. Second, in electronic commerce, members
agreed not to charge import duties on electronic transmissions.
Third, the ministers decided to give special consideration to
issues of small economies. Fourth, the ministers reaffirmed their
commitment to Aid for Trade, an initiative that assists developing
countries, and in particular the least developed countries, trade.
Fifth, the ministers directed their Geneva delegations to continue
examining the link between trade and transfer of technology and
make possible recommendations on steps that might be taken to
increase flows of technology to developing countries.
Quite apart from the content of the Bali Package, perhaps the
most significant aspect of the deal is that it happened at all. The
Bali Ministerial Conference was nearly derailed when Cuba refused
to accept a deal that would not help open the US embargo against
it. India had also been an obstacle because of its vociferous
objections to provisions that might endanger grain subsidies.
The fact that a deal was made despite these obstacles may
rekindle confidence in WTO's ability to further lower barriers
to trade at a global, multilateral level. This is particularly
important given the increase of bilateral and regional trade
negotiations undertaken after little apparent progress in the Doha
Round since it started 12 years ago. The Bali Package shows that
the Doha talks are not completely dead and, more importantly, that
it is possible for WTO members to agree on global trade issues.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are
cautioned against making any decisions based on this material
alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
While that agreement mandated export measures on Canadian softwood lumber exports destined for the United States, it also protected those lumber exports from the potential imposition of onerous import measures by the U.S.
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