The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) approved by 160 WTO members in Geneva Thursday aims to streamline and harmonise customs procedures to bring an estimated saving of more than $1 trillion annually. The TFA, the first multilateral trade agreement in the WTO's 20-year history, also known as Bali agreement, cleared a major hurdle with US and India earlier this month agreeing to a "peace clause" over India's food-stockpiling programme.
"The WTO has taken a critical step forward by breaking the impasse that has prevailed since July," US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.
"I am pleased that the United States was able to work with India and other WTO members to find an approach that preserved the letter and spirit of the package of decisions reached at last year's Bali Ministerial Conference," he said.
Froman noted that US recently worked with India to break the impasse reached "on July 1, when a small group of WTO Members blocked adoption of the Protocol of Amendment for the TFA by the deadline established in the Bali Package."
The WTO General Council adopted decisions Thursday which "endorse the approach agreed upon by the United States and India," he said.
These include "a decision on public stockholding for food security, clarifying that a 'peace clause, against legal challenges to certain public stockholding programmes, will continue until a permanent solution on such programmes is agreed and adopted," he noted.
Also reached was a decision to extend until July 2015 the deadline for developing a work programme covering all remaining issues in the Doha Round of negotiations.
The TFA "has the potential to fundamentally reform global customs practices and substantially reduce the costs and time associated with goods crossing borders," Froman said.
"It's a perfect example of how breaking down barriers to trade can unlock new opportunities for developed and developing countries alike, and it's a particularly important win for small and businesses in all countries," he said.
"With this win under the WTO's belt, we can once again focus our efforts on revitalising the organization's core negotiating functions," Froman said.