The World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Tuesday launched its 141st trade resource centre in Zimbabwe, which would serve as a WTO national enquiry point for notification filing required under the multilateral trade body’s agreements on Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Trade in Services.
Initiated in 1997 as a benefit programme of developing and least developed countries, WTO reference centres also serve as an integrated database system on bilateral trade flows and global tariffs for the benefit of governments and the private sector.
The WTO says it has spent $15-20 million on the project, part of which was committed to new computers, scanners, printers and CDs.
Similar projects will be rolled out in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania and Zambia this year.
“This is the first reference centre to be launched this year in Africa,” Mustapha Sadni Jallab, head of the WTO reference centre unit, said. “We are hoping to launch another resource centre at the University of Zimbabwe in 2011.”
A second resource centre, to be established at approximately the same cost, would enable the university to launch a post-graduate degree on international trade.
The first resource centre will primarily work as a WTO national enquiry point coordinated by the Ministry of Industry and International Trade as well as a national window through which the country would access all kinds of WTO documents.
Under WTO regulations, a country cannot pass a new regulation on SPS, TBT and trade in services without first notifying other member states and submitting copies of the draft legislation together with its notification documents.
Technically, SPS and TBT regulations deal with health-related trade restrictions and provisions aim to protect consumers, the environment and plant and animal life.
But as tariff restrictions systematically fall away as a result of accelerated regional and multilateral trade liberalisation programmes, many countries have resorted to the use of SPS and TBT measures to protect domestic markets.
Any reservations about the proposed regulations would be communicated to the notification authority through the WTO national enquiry point.
Upon request, the notification authority, usually a relevant ministry, should submit three or more sets of documents, namely a covering letter of response to the request; the notified draft regulation and an explanatory note.
The notification rule allows member states, particularly those that would be affected by proposed provisions, to review and recommend amendments to proposed laws to ensure they are consistent with WTO rules.