This is the second part of the interview with a top expert on the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA) – Mr. Bryce Blegen from the US.
What kind of risks do you foresee in international and national politics, in financing, in practical implementations, in sustainability – or, in any other aspect relevant for WTO TFA to become a true success?
I think the major risk to the TFA is going to be inertia. As already noted, in order for it to go into effect, at least 108 countries need to ratify it. Before they do that, they need to evaluate the effect which its prescriptive measures will affect their national border processes, and the legal and operational environment in which they are established, and decide that they want to sign up to the TFA. LDCs also need to go through a detailed analysis and notification process notifying the WTO what they will or will not be able to implement on Day 1, and what they require to implement the TFA within an established timeframe. Accomplishing those steps will not be easy, and will take time, and requires political will. Many countries, especially the developing ones, do not have national trade facilitation stakeholder committees at all, while others may have more than one, and these committees need to come into existence, or be re-purposed, and become effective national clearinghouses for TFA-related measures, before anything can happen in terms of TFA implementation at the national level. The goals of the TFA are lofty ones, and they may conflict with long-established traditional ways of doing cross-border business, and impact vested interests. Without strong political will from the highest parts of national governments, the road to TFA implementation could be a very long one, with the risk of getting bogged down on the way.
What kind of advice could you provide to public sector and to private sector institutions and actors in order to maximize the likelihood of success when it comes to implementation of WTO TFA across the globe?
The TFA represents a real opportunity for economic growth through increased international trade, and that economic growth can benefit both developing and developed countries alike. The TFA’s focus on reducing the overall cost of international trade has potential to provide “wins” for both government and the private sector, especially as it mandates that border measures be looked at in an “end-to-end” cost impact perspective. But everyone with experience in how borders really work know that real-world processes are complicated and often messy, and involve day-to-day operational adjustments and trade-offs just to keep things moving. Each member government needs to ensure that a broad base of private and public-sector stakeholders remains engaged in the mechanics of TFA implementation while keeping a clear focus on the overall goal, which is making the provisions of Section 1 a reality at the national level across the globe. An important part of this will be demonstrating positive economic impact, and finding new ways to bring economic benefits into focus in an understandable way at the individual and small business level.
Any final observations or comments you would like to add?
The private sector, particularly trader companies engaged in selling and buying goods across borders, needs to become much more active in supporting TFA progress at the national level. Without that support, there will be no political will for TFA ratification, nor for its implementation once it goes into force. And private sector stakeholders, particularly traders, need to ensure that their interests are represented on national stakeholder committees as they are set up and begin work. The TFA’s benefits to trade will be reaped primarily by traders—and they need to be at the table as the discussion goes forward.
Thanks a lot Bryce for this interesting and highly topical interview. Hope to catch up with you in a live session during your next visits to the old continent.