WTO members reviewed Seychelles’ accession to the South African Development Community (SADC) trade protocol and the economic partnership agreement between the European Union and Cariforum states at the 18 September meeting of the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements. Members welcomed progress being made in the economic integration of the African region.
For Seychelles' accession to the SADC trade protocol in 2015, the parties involved remarked that it will enhance trade in the region and lead to economic growth. Seychelles eliminated tariffs on 91.7% of its tariff lines for imports from other SADC members. By 2026, 97.5% of Seychelles' tariffs will be liberalized. The other SADC parties will liberalize between 93.8% and 100% of their tariffs for imports from the Seychelles. A number of changes on rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and provisions on technical barriers to trade have also been made to the SADC protocol which was considered in 2007 by the Committee.
Seychelles said its accession creates opportunities for further trade with Southern African neighbours and serves as a stepping stone for boosting intra-African trade. It further noted that the trade protocol is fully compatible with WTO rules and provides predictability for commerce, thus establishing better trading conditions. Namibia on behalf of SADC said the Seychelles, though a small economy, was a strategic trading partner. The accession of Seychelles will lead to further regional integration, Namibia said. Other members who took the floor at the meeting commended the parties for the review process and remarked positively on the growing integration among African economies.
Parties to the economic partnership agreement between the EU and Cariforum states meanwhile drew attention to the strengthened economic ties resulting from their regional trade agreement, which has been provisionally applied since 2008. The agreement liberalizes trade in goods over a transition period of 25 years for the Cariforum states. By 2033, Cariforum states will have eliminated tariffs on 86.5% to 97.9% of their respective tariff lines. The EU, meanwhile, eliminated duties on all but 22 tariff lines when the agreement provisionally entered into force. It also contains provisions to liberalize trade in services, development and cooperation, and sustainable development as important elements of the trade partnership.
The EU noted that exports of non-agricultural goods from Cariforum states to the EU grew by 23% between 2014 and 2017. Cariforum's services exports and the EU's investment in the region have also increased, the EU said. It added that the parties were working together to ensure effective implementation of the agreement and extensive outreach to the private sector. The EU provided information on the assistance it provided in this regard. Jamaica, on behalf of Cariforum states, said the agreement was compliant with WTO rules and likewise highlighted the development cooperation among the parties. The agreement's objective is to alleviate poverty in Cariforum states, promote regional integration, and foster the group's integration into the world economy, Jamaica added. Other members commenting on the agreement thanked the parties for their cooperation in the review process.
Improving transparency
The chair of the Committee, Ambassador Julian Braithwaite (United Kingdom), told members that 80nRTAs currently in force have not been notified to the WTO as of 11 September, acknowledging however that the Turkey-Singapore free trade agreement had been notified after the list was circulated.
The chair further noted that factual presentations for 29 RTAs involving only WTO members and those for a further 36 RTAs involving non-members remain pending, counting goods and services agreements separately. The WTO Secretariat reiterated its call to members to submit data and comments in a timely fashion. The chair said he was continuing consultations with relevant members to resolve the matter. It was however also noted that members needed to take a closer look at the reasons for the lack of notifications and ways in which to improve notifications of RTAs.
Some members noted increased engagement to resolve the issue concerning the review of certain agreements of Latin American Integration Association (LAIA) members. Some members also looked forward to the consideration of the Gulf Cooperation Council under Transparency Mechanism procedures.
As for the adoption of a new template for members to notify changes to their existing RTAs, Brazil reported that its authorities have approved the notification format and that it could now go on to the other WTO bodies for further approval.
Source: World Trade Organization