ICC seminar assesses the impact of implementing trade facilitation in the MENA region
Over 80 participants gathered at the ICC Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional office in Doha on Tuesday to discuss the numerous opportunities and challenges that the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) presents to businesses and governments in region.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) continued its intense campaign to urge WTO member countries to begin the implementation process of the trade facilitation measures agreed to in Bali in 2013, despite recent hold ups of agreement ratification. The ICC MENA regional office brought together policymakers and stakeholders in the seminar, under the patronage of H.E., Minister of Economy and Commerce of Qatar, to stress the need for MENA region countries to adhere – to the greatest extent possible – to maximum obligations under the TFA and contribute to reducing cross-border trade barriers.
Sheikh Khalifa, Chairman of Qatar Chamber of Commerce, said: “Qatar Chamber has always believed business could provide a practical and forward-looking trade policy that would contribute to economic growth and job creation through simplifying administrative procedures and standards that dictate how goods cross borders or how they are handled in customs and we have been working closely to ICC to encourage all WTO parties to seal the trade facilitation deal.” While WTO officials reconvene in Geneva to try and unblock the impasse in ratification of the agreement, the event highlighted how Qatar and other countries in the MENA region are pressing ahead with domestic reforms aimed at reducing customs barriers in anticipation of the TFA entry into force.
Remy Rowhani, CEO of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “Business today holds the key to spurring economies around the world and Qatar Chamber, together with ICC, is fully committed to overseeing a growth drive that will not only have a direct impact on the local economy but will create hundreds of thousands of jobs globally.”
During the event, Abdulla Ghanim Al-Ghanim, Ministry of Economy and Commerce of Qatar, pledged his country’s commitment to reducing the cost of doing business in the region. Raed Safadi of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that the cost reduction potential of trade facilitation would reach almost 14.5% of trade costs for low income countries, 15.5% for lower middle income countries and up to 13.2% for upper middle income countries. Specifically for the MENA region, full implementation of trade facilitation measures would reduce these costs by 10%. According to the OECD, such cost reductions would greatly benefit the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as they suffer disproportionately from customs bottlenecks. Mohammed Ibrahim, Head of ICC MENA, underscored how trade facilitation reforms will enable many companies to trade internationally for the first time, particularly as the Internet opens up new market opportunities for SMEs to connect with customers across borders.
ICC Policy Manager Nicolle Graugnard supported Mr Ibrahim’s comments by pointing to research indicating that improved border and customs measures could trigger a 60-80% increase in cross-border SME sales in some economies. Mohammed Saeed of the International Trade Centre identified obstacles in customs administration that are particularly affecting Arab States. These include over regulation, insufficient coordination among agencies, inadequate infrastructure and human resources capacity. “With all of these areas addressed in the TFA obligations, the importance of the agreement’s implementation could not be more evident,” he said. Jabor Al- Sulaiti of Qatar’s General Authority of Customs added: “We must move from a culture of collection to a culture of facilitation.”
Business executives and policy officials also discussed the interplay of customs facilitation and supply chain security. With the MENA region hosting many free trade zones, issues of counterfeiting and illicit trade in free trade zones were closely examined. “Supply chains are only as secure as their weakest link,” said Donia Hammami, Policy Manager of the ICC Commission on Customs and Trade Facilitation. The seminar was a concrete example of ICC’s and the Qatar Chamber’s continuing support of the ICC World Trade Agenda initiative aimed at reinvigorating trade negotiations at the WTO for generating economic growth and job creation.