From 20 to 23 April 2022, Members of the African Union gathered for the AfCFTA 6th meeting of the Sub-Committee on Rules of Origin (RoO) to discuss outstanding issues and the draft AfCFTA RoO manual. The meeting was preceded by a one-day workshop on implications of HS 2022 amendments for RoO and schedules of tariff concessions, which was delivered on 19 April. The meeting and the workshop took place in Accra, Ghana. They were organized jointly by the AfCFTA Secretariat and the EU-WCO Programme for Harmonized System in Africa (HS-Africa Programme), funded by the European Union. Over 120 RoO experts took part in the meetings with 38 attending in person and 83 virtually representing 40 Member administrations, the East African Community, ECOWAS and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. First, the experts attended the workshop where they were introduced to the HS 2022 amendments and where they discussed the impact that the amendments would have for the RoO and the AfCFTA schedules of tariff concessions. Thereafter, the experts gathered for the meeting of the Sub-Committee to examine the issues of RoO for which no agreement had been reached to date as well as to finalize the AfCFTA RoO Manual for the submission to the Council of Ministers.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Mohamed Ali, Director of Trade in Goods and Competition of the AfCFTA Secretariat expressed his appreciation for the support provided by the EU and the WCO on the implementation of the HS under the HS-Africa Programme. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that continued support be provided to the AfCFTA to fully implement HS 2022, and welcomed the opportunity to have a thorough review of the remaining questions. He thanked the Member administrations that were making strides in migrating to the new version of the HS.
From 11 to 15 April 2022, eleven Members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held a meeting to continue the ongoing work towards the development of a common external tariff (CET) for the Central African region. The meeting took place in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was organized in close cooperation with the WCO, in the framework of the EU-WCO Programme for Harmonized System in Africa (HS-Africa Programme), funded by the European Union. The meeting brought together tariff experts from Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe, as well as the Secretariats of the CEMAC, the ECCAS and representatives of the WCO. It was preceded by thorough preparatory work done by the Steering Committee on the Rationalization of RECs in Central Africa to develop a draft harmonized CET. On behalf of the HS-Africa Programme, tariff experts from Customs administrations of Algeria and France participated in that review and provided their advice with regard to aligning the draft CET on the HS 2022 version. The CEMAC and the ECCAS have been working towards creating an integrated regional space to guarantee optimal conditions for a wider market within the Central African region. Development of a harmonized CET is viewed as a concrete step towards achieving these objectives and an important prerequisite for the regional integration and trade facilitation. The meeting provided an opportunity to continue this important work and finalize the draft CET based on the 2022 version of the HS.
India has “no plans" to join the government procurement agreement grouping of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but is open to negotiating such agreements as part of bilateral deals. It already figures in the free trade agreement signed with the UAE, and while this may act as a template for all future bilateral free-trade agreements the scope and coverage of the section may vary, the ministry of commerce and industry said in the section on frequently asked questions on the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Pacts under negotiation include those with Canada, the EU, Israel and the UK. The India-UAE agreement, which came into effect on 1 May excludes government procurement for several union ministries. While this was the first time India had included government procurement in a free-trade pact, it is only limited to a few central ministries and excludes key sectors such as construction, infrastructure projects and health care, including medical devices and pharmaceutical products. Under the pact, only government procurement contracts worth over ₹200 crore will be allowed for UAE-based companies on the same terms as Indian firms. Government procurement is open to 34 ministries and departments, including power and education.
From 28 March to 1 April 2022, the World Customs Organization (WCO) conducted a National Workshop on Combatting Counterfeiting and Piracy in Thailand. The Workshop was held thanks to financial support from the Customs Cooperation Fund of Japan (CCF/Japan) and in collaboration with the WCO Regional Office for Capacity Building for Asia/Pacific (ROCB A/P). As part of this mission, the border enforcement system in place in Thailand to protect intellectual property rights (IPRs) was analysed by a WCO expert using the WCO Self-Assessment Tool. The results revealed that Thailand already has a robust system enabling Thai Customs to implement appropriate IPR enforcement at its borders. Thai Customs has, nevertheless, made additional efforts to render its border enforcement system even more effective through improvements that will come to light in a few months’ time. The IPR experts from the WCO, Japan Customs and the ROCB A/P shared their knowledge with participants on effective risk management techniques and ways of exchanging information among Customs officials from various WCO Members. Participants were also able to exchange views with some right holders, who joined the Workshop either in-person or remotely, in order to develop cooperation with the common goal of stopping counterfeit goods at borders.
On 29 April, the WTO circulated the panel report in the case brought by Turkey in “European Union — Safeguard Measures on Certain Steel Products” (DS595).
Turkey informed WTO members on 28 April that it has initiated arbitration proceedings under Article 25 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) to review the findings of a WTO dispute panel in “Turkey — Certain Measures concerning the Production, Importation and Marketing of Pharmaceutical Products” (DS583). In addition, Turkey and the European Union, the complainant in the dispute, agreed to make public the panel findings.
The WTO circulated the panel report in the case brought by Mexico in “Costa Rica — Measures Concerning the Importation of Fresh Avocados from Mexico” (DS524).
As part of overall efforts to improve transparency, WTO members advanced work to ensure that import licensing procedures remain simple, straightforward and predictable. At a meeting of the Committee on Import Licensing Procedures on 8 April 2022, members reviewed 69 notifications, discussed several specific trade concerns about import licensing regimes, and advanced work on the e-agenda project for the Committee and on the development and improvement of the import licensing website and database.