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Four signatures needed to give Nairobi-brokered shipping pact legal effect

Some of the foreign delegates who attended the WTO Nairobi Forum in December 2015  at a restaurant in Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA
Some of the foreign delegates who attended the WTO Nairobi Forum in December 2015 at a restaurant in Nairobi. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA 

Only four more signatures are required from World Trade Organisation (WTO) 164 members to give force to an international agreement set to open up national borders for ease of movement.

Kenya is one of the states that have ratified the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), one of the quick wins of the December 2015 Nairobi Forum, the first WTO ministerial conference to be held in Africa.

This week, Mozambique and Saint Vincent & The Grenadines became the latest states to endorse the pact bringing the total to 106 countries.

The WTO requires four more approvals from the member countries to reach the two-thirds threshold needed to bring the TFA into force.

Other African states that have signed the TFA include Togo, Zambia, Lesotho, Mali, Swaziland, Senegal, Chile and Cote d’Ivoire.

“The TFA will enter into force once two-thirds of the WTO membership has formally accepted the agreement,” read a statement from the WTO. The TFA seeks to standardise and boost transparency of global customs and port procedures. It contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods including those on transit.

Under the protocol, it will be mandatory for signatories to publish procedures and documentation required for importation, exportation, and transit via port, airport, and border points.

Each signatory state will also be required to provide shippers with details of tax, regulatory fees, rules for the classification or valuation of products for customs purposes, rules of origin, penalties, procedures for appeal and trade restrictions.

The TFA protocol is one of the proposals that the trade ministers agreed on at the Bali Conference held in December 2013.

Under the protocol, each signatory undertakes to ensure smooth flow of goods by expanding transport infrastructure and simplifying cross-border procedures.

To live up to its expectation of easing movement, release and clearance of goods, WTO member states must invest in equipment and technology infrastructure.

On its part, Kenya started implementation of the single window system of clearing imports, in July 2015 that allows traders to access and file regulatory documentation online.

The single window system has helped in cutting the time-consuming paperwork and the corruption-breeding physical contact.

The system was cited among the most disruptive changes that affected international trade in 2015. The TFA protocol further contains provisions that allow developing states such as Kenya to receive technical assistance from rich countries.

For the first time in WTO history, the requirement to implement the Agreement was directly linked to the capacity of the country to do so.

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