Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Bali Package: Benefits worth $400 billion to $1 trillion over the years

At the Ninth Session of the Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, the 159 member countries agreed to a deal (the Bali Package) whose benefits to the world economy are estimated to be between $400 billion and $1 trillion over the years, mainly through reduction in costs of trade by between 10% and 15%, increasing trade flows and revenue collection, creating a stable business environment and attracting foreign investment. The deal is expected to be adopted by the General Council by 31 July 2014.

It is described as the first major WTO agreement since 1995. The main highlight of the package is the trade facilitation part aimed at cutting red tape and speeding up port clearances. The other features of the package relate to food security and cotton production in developing countries, and a political commitment to reduce export subsidies in agriculture.
Some of the major highlights below:

Trade facilitation:
  • A multilateral, legally binding deal to simplify customs procedures by reducing costs and improving their speed and efficiency.
  • Specifically, it will speed up customs procedures; make trade easier, faster and cheaper; provide clarity, efficiency and transparency; reduce bureaucracy and corruption; and use technological advances.
  • Includes provisions on goods in transit, which is of interest to landlocked countries like Nepal.
  • Assistance for developing and LDCs to update their infrastructure, train customs officials, or for any other cost associated with implementing the agreement.
Agriculture and cotton:
  • An interim, until a permanent one is agreed upon, solution related to the shielding of public stocking programs for food security. [Solution: “Members would temporarily refrain from lodging a legal complaint (“due restraint”, sometimes also called a “peace clause”) if a developing country exceeded its Amber Box limits as a result of stockholding for food security. Work on finding a longer term solution would continue after the ministerial conference. Countries using these policies would provide up-to-date data and other information on what was involved, so that other countries could see what was happening.”] It commits countries using the new flexibility to ensure that their food stockholding scheme does not “adversely affect the food security of other Members.”
  • Tariff quota administration measures include a combination of consultation and provision of information when quotas are under-filled.
  • Export subsidies and other measures with similar effect to be low.
  • Improving market access for cotton production from LDCs along with development assistance for boosting production.
Development issues:
  • No changes in other provisions (from Geneva versions) such as duty-free, quota-free access for LDCs, simplified preferential rules of origin for LDCs, and services waiver for LDCs, among others.
  • Monitoring of special and differential treatment.
  • Preferential rules of origin will make it easier for LDCs to export their goods.

Full Bali Ministerial Declaration here. Not all Doha Development Agenda issues are sorted out. These will be taken up in further trade negotiations. Earlier rounds of negotiation and Nepal’s interest here.