Individuals, companies and governments involved in trade and investment need to know as much as possible about the conditions of trade in the countries they want to deal with. Increased transparency is a feature of many WTO agreements.
Policies that aid certainty and predictability in trade
The following policies aid certainty and predictability about trading conditions:
Publication: Governments are obliged to publish relevant laws and regulations.
Notifications: Every time a government introduces or makes a change to specific measures, policies or laws that may have a significant effect on trade, they have to inform the WTO and fellow members and give details of how these laws are being applied. WTO members are allowed a reasonable period to make comments on these proposed changes.
National enquiry points: Under some agreements, a single point of contact is established, so other WTO members can easily request information and documentation. The national enquiry point is obliged to answer any reasonable requests. Enquiry points are usually governmental agencies, but their duties can also be assigned to a private body.
New Zealand ’s enquiry points are: Technical barriers to trade (technical regulations) - Standards New Zealand; sanitary and phytosanitary - Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Trade policy reviews
In the Uruguay Round negotiations, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/WTO members agreed to set up regular reviews of member countries’ trade policy. Originally, like GATT, they focussed on goods trade but in 1995, with the creation of the WTO, their scope was expanded to include services and intellectual property. The reviews focus on members’ own trade policies and practices. They also take into account the countries’ wider economic and developmental needs, their policies and objectives, and the external economic environment they face.
The reviews have two broad results: (i) they enable other WTO members to better understand a country’s trade policies and circumstances, and (ii) they provide feedback to the reviewed country on its performance and encourage them to follow WTO rules and disciplines more closely.
For each review two documents are prepared: a policy statement by the government under review and a detailed report written by the WTO secretariat.
A meeting is then held, usually lasting two days, in which all members are given the opportunity to question the country under review on specific aspects of its trade policy. The minutes of the Trade Policy Review Body’s meeting and answers to the questions are published by the WTO secretariat shortly afterwards.
The frequency of reviews depends on the country’s size:
The four biggest traders (the EU, US, Japan and Canada) are examined approximately once every two years
The next sixteen countries in terms of their share of world trade are reviewed every four years
The remaining countries (including New Zealand) are reviewed approximately every six years, with the possibility for a longer interim period for the least-developed countries.
In 2010 the following countries will be reviewed: Croatia, Armenia, Albania, China, Malawi, Chinese Taipei, The Gambia, Honduras, United States of America, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali, Sri Lanka, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Hong Kong, China..