The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) came into force on 22 February 2017. This is the result of the Doha round of trade negotiations launched in 2001. The text of the TFA was adopted by WTO members at the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali on 3 and 6 December 2013. The agreement entered into force in accordance with Article X:3 of the WTO agreement and members must individually accept the amendment to the WTO agreement by tabling an instrument for accepting the amendment protocol adopted on 27 November 2014. An updated list of members who have adopted the minutes is available on the WTO website. The Trade Facilitation Agreement is aimed at WTO members: Section II of the agreement contains innovative special and differentiated treatment provisions that link implementation by developing countries and LDCs to the acquisition of the ability to implement the agreement for the first time in WTO history (see box). Prevent, prevent, prevent: developing countries and LDCs that are willing to adopt the specific and differentiated provisions of the TFA must meet the implementation communication requirements set out in the agreement. These notifications are part of the agreement. Developing countries cannot expect these flexibilities if they do not respect their part of the agreement. The DSC establishes a number of transparency obligations with respect to the substantive provisions of the agreement with respect to (i) online descriptions of business procedures; (ii) contact points to answer questions; (iii) the operation of insulated windows; (iv) the use of customs officers; and v) contact points for the exchange of customs information. Under the special and differentiated treatment provisions, the TFA provides developing countries and LDCs with additional time during which both groups of countries are exempt from the application of the dispute settlement agreement (Article 20). Given the stages of development, the Agreement provides for shorter timeframes for developing countries and longer periods of time and greater flexibility for least developed countries. Ratify – the sooner the better: the developing countries that will ratify the agreement in the coming months (and hopefully not years) have already missed some critical deadlines that will prevent them from making the most of the special and differentiated provisions for the treatment of TFA.
In the two years since it came into force, 141 out of 164 countries have ratified the agreement, representing 86% of WTO membership (the TFA being applied on the basis of the most favoured nations). 12 of the other 22 countries are LDCs. Nine countries have not ratified the TFA and have not communicated the commitments of Categories A, B and C. This means that the level of development can have a direct impact on the complexity of legal systems and on countries` ability to assess what they have to do, prompting donors and development partners to assist in legal processes.