The new WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) is a significant step forward for the international trading regime, representing new hope for the relevance of the WTO.
The TFA is the first multilateral agreement since the creation of the WTO in 1995 and includes novel measures to help developing countries build capacity, while also taking into consideration regulatory concerns of WTO members through the application of the general GATT exceptions to the new agreement. While the TFA may appear narrow in scope, with regards to goods it is arguably the broadest WTO Agreement besides the GATT, since all goods that cross national borders find themselves subject to trade facilitation measures. If the TFA is properly interpreted, the combination of capacity-building measures, a focus on technological improvements and the judicious invocation of Article XX could result in a win-win situation wherein routine positive trade is streamlined, reducing time required to cross borders, while negative trade is more easily controlled and regulated at the border.
Despite regulatory questions concerning implementation, it is likely that the TFA will reduce the cost of trading across borders, while improving trade for developing countries and allowing WTO members to better control trade flows, through a combination of procedural streamlining and regulatory discretion.