Frequently asked questions

The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation

What is the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation?

The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation, concluded in December 2013, is a series of undertakings by the 160 WTO Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to minimise and streamline customs procedures, improve appeal and consultation procedures, and enhance the ability of traders to access the information they require to trade their goods internationally. The agreement will help to markedly reduce the length of time and the number of documents required for clearing goods across borders.

Once fully implemented, the Agreement is expected to reduce trade costs by 10 per cent for Australian traders (OECD, 2013). By improving the transparency and simplicity of global trade procedures, this agreement will provide Australian exporters with significant benefits.

How will the Agreement on Trade Facilitation benefit Australian businesses?

For Australian businesses, exporting goods will become less difficult, take less time to get cleared by Customs at foreign ports, and lower costs.

For instance, provisions allowing exporters to submit import documentation prior to the physical arrival of goods, and for the clearance of goods prior to the final determination of duties and charges, will reduce the time it takes for goods to reach their final destination.

In addition, traders will be able to obtain precise and binding information on the tariff classification their goods will receive before arrival at foreign borders.

The agreement also mandates the quick release of perishable goods, which will reduce waiting times for clearance of agricultural exports in foreign ports. This will reduce business costs for exporters and make their goods more affordable to overseas consumers.

Exporters will also benefit from new requirements that WTO Members publish relevant procedures and forms for importing goods on the internet, making it easier for all businesses to navigate customs procedures and launch into new export markets.

For an article by article explanation of the benefits traders can expect from the agreement’s implementation, please see Fact sheet: The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

When will Australian businesses start benefiting from the agreement’s implementation?

Australian businesses will begin benefiting from the Agreement’s provisions upon its entry-into-force. The Agreement will enter into force after it has been accepted by two thirds of WTO Members. The Agreement’s benefits will begin flowing to Australian businesses once other WTO Members make the relevant changes to their legislation and customs procedures. Developing and least-developed countries will have some flexibility in the time they have to implement the Agreement. Australia will work with our developing partner countries to ensure they are able to implement the provisions of the Agreement at an early date.

What is the process for Australia accepting the agreement?

Following the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties’ (JSCOT) allocated 20 joint-sitting parliamentary days to inquire into and report on the agreement, the Federal Executive Council is given the opportunity to provide the final approval for Australia to accept the agreement. Subject to domestic approval processes, Australia would be looking to formally accept the ATF and notify the WTO by the middle of 2015.

How is Australia assisting developing countries to implement the agreement?

The WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation is expected to deliver substantial benefits to Australia’s developing country partners and we are committed to help developing countries implement the agreement. Australia was the second largest donor to WTO Trade Facilitation Needs Assessment Fund. More recently, Australia committed to fund the World Bank’s Trade Facilitation Support Program which will assist countries reform their trade facilitation practices in a manner consistent with the new agreement.

Who can I contact to find out more?

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at: