The development of common and simplified customs standards to ease the flow of goods around the world will be a key outcome of the newly approved Bali Package, agreed by members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at the December WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali.

Unveiled as the first multilateral “trade facilitation” agreement signed by WTO member states in the organisation’s 18-year history, the Bali Package aims to lower global trade barriers and seek to minimise unnecessary border delays and increase market access to goods.

The Bali Package includes 10 separate agreements, including binding agreements on trade facilitation, food security initiatives in developing countries, and measures for the development of least-developed countries.
When implemented, the WTO estimates that the customs measures can contribute up to $1 trillion per year to the global economy. On the signing of the agreement, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said: “For first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered. We have put the ‘world’ back in World Trade Organisation.”

One of the key aspects of the Package for the food industry in Asia is the Agreement on Trade Facilitation document, released following the closing of the WTO meeting. This agreement outlines the objectives in facilitating trade and the measures to speed up customs procedures, promote efficiency and transparency, reduce bureaucracy and corruption, and use technological advances.

This agreement, which is conditional on technical and financial commitments still to be specified, encourages member states to “use relevant international standards” and “apply common customs procedures and uniform documentation requirements” to allow for a smoother import and export process.

It also highlights the need for member states’ respective national import and export formalities and documentation to encourage the “rapid release and clearance” of goods and to minimise any complexities related to importation, exportation and transit of goods.

Customs cooperation between member states was also outlined in the agreement. Members are encouraged to cooperate in terms of providing information on “best practices in managing customs compliance”, in technical guidance and assisting in capacity building.

Principal Advisor for the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), Pushpanathan Sundram, said the agreement has the potential to significantly impact the food industry in ASEAN.

“Streamlined customs and administrative procedures for international and regional trade transactions can facilitate the movement, release and clearance of goods across the region. The streamlining of customs procedures, as outlined in the trade facilitation agreement, would help to make border-crossing processes simpler and more transparent.

“If implemented, these measures will reduce the time taken for goods to be cleared at customs, reduce excess red tape costs and can help minimise the detention and rejection of shipments of goods at customs. As a result, this will enable the development of a rapid and less costly passage of goods, allowing for the easier flow of goods across the region as envisaged by the ASEAN Single Market and Production Base,” Mr Pushpanathan said.

He added that this package will also impact discussions about ASEAN agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the future of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

“The WTO Bali outcomes will provide a strong impetus for ASEAN to put trade facilitation on top of its regional trade agenda post 2015. I hope the ASEAN economic ministers will have an opportunity to discuss this when they meet in early 2014 under Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN,” he said.

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