At the Bali Ministerial Meeting in December, 159 World Trade Organization (WTO) members adopted a package of trade facilitation measures that features binding global Customs reforms intended to cut global traders’ clearance time and costs (the “Bali Package”).
The Customs provisions, which formally adopt standards for Customs administrations already met by many WTO members, are expected to primarily impact processes in least-developed countries (LDCs), which have the most burdensome administrative processes. Specifically, the provisions are intended to:
- Provide for advanced processing of import documentation;
- Establish limits on certain Customs fees;
- Prohibit certain transit regulations that restrict the “freedom of movement” (a WTO principle);
- Require publication of information on importation procedures, duty rates, and related regulations;
- Permit stakeholder participation in regulatory reform affecting merchandise clearance; and,
- Establish appeal processes for Customs’ administrative rulings.
U.S. exporters that currently experience protracted delays or excessive costs clearing goods through certain foreign Customs administrations may realize cost savings upon States’ implementation of the Customs measures. In the longer-term, companies that decided to forgo import/export operations in certain countries because of deficient document processing, excessive fees, or other adverse logistics realities may want to re-evaluate their supply chains in light of this development.
The Bali Package also adopts several WTO decisions, which amount to political promises by Member-States, including, for example, a commitment by WTO members to reduce agriculture export subsidies.
The Bali Package represents the Doha Round’s first material output since its inception in 2001, reenergizing some support for a global trade agenda many stakeholders thought would be unattainable. It has also prompted optimistic WTO-watchers to anticipate a slight shift in focus from bilateral and regional negotiations, historically more prolific than Doha, to the WTO’s multilateral efforts to liberalize trade.
If you have any questions regarding the implications of the Bali Package for your business, please contact the authors of this alert or a member of our International Trade Practice Group.