WTO members review six regional trade agreements

12 tháng 04. 2024

The Committee considered the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) under the Transparency Mechanism for RTAs. The Agreement, in force since 17 May 2010 and whose beginnings date back to 1977, establishes a free trade area among ASEAN member states. Liberalization is already fully implemented except for petroleum products in Viet Nam (expected in 2024) and Cambodia (2025). Tariffs on intra-ASEAN trade have been eliminated on most tariff lines, with the remaining tariff lines comprising under 2% of the total excluded from liberalization. Tariffs on those excluded lines range from 5% to 35%. ATIGA is one of the pillars of the ASEAN Economic Community, which includes the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement (ATISA) and the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA).

The Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), speaking on behalf of the ASEAN member states, emphasized that the Agreement provides comprehensive trade measures including the liberalization of rules of origin, trade facilitation and customs procedures, aiming to enhance economic cooperation within ASEAN. Serving as a cornerstone for economic integration efforts, the Agreement promotes regional trade, enhances competitiveness, and drives economic growth within the region.   

The Committee also considered the services aspects of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Japan and the Member States of ASEAN. This is part of the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and entered into force between 1 August 2020 and 1 February 2022 for the various parties. It covers trade in services, movement of natural persons and investment, and is complemented by supplementary provisions on financial and telecommunications services. Liberalization commitments under the Agreement are generally broader than those under the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), with some exceptions.

Thailand, speaking on behalf of the ASEAN member states, said that ASEAN and Japan continued to strengthen their collaborative efforts aimed at enhancing trade and economic cooperation. They firmly believe this agreement will facilitate increased cross-border flow of investment and services among all parties involved.

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and the Pacific States (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands), Goods,  has been in force since 2009 between the European Union and Papua New Guinea, and from 2014 between the EU and Fiji. Subsequently, Samoa and the Solomon Islands acceded in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Prior to entry into force, the EU already provided duty-free and quota-free market access for most products under its “market access regulation” for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States; this has continued under the EPA. The Pacific States will liberalize between 77.9% and 90.7% of their tariffs within a period of 15-25 years, with bilateral safeguards envisaged for when compliance may cause difficulty in ensuring food security. The Agreement also aims to promote sustainable development and the gradual integration of the Pacific States into the world economy in conformity with their development priorities.

The European Union stated that the Agreement is geared towards fostering collaboration on customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. It establishes dispute avoidance and settlement procedures to ensure that consumers and businesses can fully leverage the trade and development opportunities offered by the Agreement.

Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Pacific States, highlighted that the Agreement's objectives include enabling the Pacific States to capitalize on preferential access to the EU market and promoting sustainable development alongside the gradual integration of the Pacific States into the global economy.

The Committee also considered the Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and Viet Nam, Goods and Services. The Agreement in large part replicates the provisions of the agreement between the European Union and Viet Nam that the UK was party to previously as a member of the EU. The UK expects to liberalize over 99% of its tariffs for imports from Viet Nam at the end of implementation in 2027, while Viet Nam will liberalize 97.6% of tariffs by 2035. On trade in services, most commitments made by the parties in the EU-Viet Nam Agreement are replicated and there are some improvements in certain business services, distribution, and financial services.

In a joint statement with Viet Nam, the UK noted that the Agreement seeks to maintain continuity in the UK-Viet Nam trading relationship, integrating relevant provisions from the existing FTA. Substantive adjustments include modifications to tariff rate quota volumes and rules of origin. There are also commitments in the Agreement relating to trade and sustainable development, including labour, the environment and corporate social responsibility.

The Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, Goods and Services, entered into force on 1 January 2021. It incorporates and modifies the trade agreement previously established between the EU and Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Each party will liberalize more than 95% of its tariffs by the end of implementation, providing continuity in the preferential trade relationship between the UK and the Andean countries. The parties also build on their commitments under the GATS.

The UK, delivering a joint statement with Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, emphasized that the Agreement has already facilitated substantial trade and investment, with total trade in goods and services between the UK and the Andean states reaching GBP 4.2 billion in the four quarters leading up to the end of Q4 2022. The UK looks forward to the upcoming Trade Committee meeting with the Andean countries in July, aiming to explore further opportunities for collaboration and enhance prospects for trade.

The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus), Goods and Services, entered into force between 13 December 2020 and 11 October 2022 among the various parties: Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu. Australia and New Zealand liberalized all their tariffs upon its entry into force. For the Pacific Island countries, meanwhile, zero (for Kiribati) and 18.4% (for Vanuatu) of their tariff lines will remain dutiable for imports from Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, liberalization commitments in trade in services, movement of natural persons, and investment vary among the parties following the “positive list” approach.

Samoa, speaking on behalf of the PACER Plus Parties, highlighted that the Agreement includes tariff commitments, rules of origin, customs procedures, and SPS measures. It also recognizes the importance of sustainable economic development and aims to address unemployment in the Pacific Islands.

New Zealand said it regards PACER Plus as a landmark agreement for the region, aiming to support Pacific Island countries in becoming more active players in trade and benefiting from regional and global trade. This, in turn, is expected to create opportunities for growth, jobs, and increased living standards, it said. 

Australia emphasized that the Agreement will assist Pacific Island countries in addressing challenges, providing a framework for increased predictability, transparency, and stability in a professional business environment. It also aims to deliver targeted and responsive technical assistance in areas relevant to Pacific Island countries' trade.   

Enhancing the Committee's work

The Committee took note of 11 regional trade agreement notifications and received two further notifications after the meeting agenda was circulated to members.  

The chair, Ambassador Clare Kelly of New Zealand, noted that there are 30 RTAs involving WTO members and 35 involving non-members for which a factual presentation has to be prepared, counting goods and services separately. She also noted that the WTO Secretariat had circulated a list of 56 RTAs currently in force that had not been notified to the WTO, while end of implementation reports were due for 210 RTAs by March 2024. Members discussed one end of implementation report of the Agreement between Canada and Chile.

Members discussed how to improve the functioning of the Committee. The chair, summarizing the informal discussion, noted agreement among members regarding the inclusion of an executive summary in the factual presentations, to be drafted and circulated under the responsibility of the Secretariat. The chair stated that discussions on other matters would continue in the next Committee meeting.

Election of the chair

Members elected Ambassador Salomon Eheth of Cameroon as the new Committee chair. He replaces Ambassador Kelly.

Next meeting

The next Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for 2-3 July 2024.