Trade Facilitation and the Trade Facilitation Agreement

Trade facilitation refers to the simplification and harmonisation of international trade procedures to assist the movement of goods. Customs, licensing and transit formalities involve complicated administrative processes and burdensome documentation requirements. Businesses can suffer significant costs as the result of complicated or unnecessary, procedures.

In recognition of the significant potential benefits of reducing red tape barriers to international trade, WTO Members concluded the Agreement on Trade Facilitation at the Ninth Ministerial Conference on 7 December 2013 in Bali. As the first major agreement concluded since the establishment of the WTO in 1995, the Agreement on Trade Facilitation is a significant milestone. The Agreement is designed to deliver practical measures to strengthen global trade and economic growth. In undertaking the Agreement's obligations, WTO Members will remove the regulatory and procedural burdens traders face when conducting international trade, by harmonising and streamlining global customs procedures and making trade regulations more transparent.

At a WTO General Council meeting on 27 November 2014, WTO Members agreed to adopt the Protocol to implement the Agreement on Trade Facilitation (ATF). The ATF will now formally enter into force after it has been accepted by two thirds of WTO Members.

Australia formally accepted the ATF on 4 June 2015 when Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo delivered the instrument of acceptance on behalf of Trade and Investment Minister, the Hon. Andrew Robb MP to the WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo during the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meetings (MCM) in Paris. This follows the tabling of the Agreement in the Australian Parliament on 18 June 2014 and the recommendation from the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) that binding treaty action take place as stated in its Report of 26 March 2015.

Globally, the agreement will provide a major boost for jobs and growth. The OECD estimates that full implementation of the agreement could reduce the costs of trading across borders by more than 10 per cent for developed economies.

Australia's role

Australian negotiators, led by DFAT representatives at Australia's WTO mission in Geneva, played a pivotal role in securing the successful conclusion of this agreement after almost 10 years of negotiations. Australia played a particularly important role in co-sponsoring and pushing for obligations to provide advance rulings and to prioritise the clearance of perishable goods. Implementation of these obligations by WTO Members will provide significant benefits to Australian exporters.

Two-thirds of the expected benefits of the Agreement are anticipated to flow towards developing countries. The full implementation of the agreement by developing countries will boost economic growth and create millions of jobs. Australia is working to assist developing countries to implement the agreement.

Australia hosts international dialogue on Trade Facilitation Reform – December 2016

The conference "Trade Facilitation Reform: A Business and Government Partnership", held in Sydney on 13 –14 December 2016, brings governments and businesses from the Indo-Pacific together to find ways to make trade more efficient.

The conference is hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in partnership with the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation. The Global Alliance is a public-private initiative designed to help developing countries reduce trade costs. The event is also co-sponsored by Brambles, the Export Council of Australia, Commonwealth Bank, DHL and the Freight & Trade Alliance.  

The event provides a forum for businesses and governments to connect and explore new ways to lower trade costs, share best-practices and encourage trade facilitation reform.  The conference is by invitation only, and will include expert representatives from Australian and international businesses, developing countries, international organisations and other Australian Government departments.

The event aims to strengthen participants' knowledge of trade facilitation, and lay the foundations for future partnerships to promote trade and growth. The conference also provides an opportunity to look beyond the ATF to further areas for trade and regulatory reforms.

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Last Updated: 12 December 2016