Article 1.2: Information Available Through Internet
What is covered?
Scope and objective
Pursuant to Article 1.2.1 of the TFA, the agency leading the implementation of this measure must elaborate and make publicly available on the Internet a description step-by-step of the procedures for importation, exportation and transit of goods in order to ensure that the uploaded information is readily accessible to any traders, government or other interested party. Given its cross-cutting nature, that description should contain the stages and formalities managed by the different agencies involved in cross-border trade.
Whereas Article 1.1 of the TFA requires to made available in an explanatory, descriptive, readable and non-discriminatory manner – inter alia – the cross-border trade-related procedures, fees and rules for the classification of products, Article 1.2 necessitates WTO Members to undertake further action by making selected information available online, including practical steps for import/export/transit and appeal procedures.
The recipients of the information published through the Internet are located within and beyond the territory of the concerned WTO Member. The latter may include other governments and traders based in other countries.
It has to be noted that a footnote to Article 1.2.1(a) clarifies that each WTO Member has the discretion to state on its website the legal limitations of these descriptions. This means that WTO Members may include a note restricting the legal weight of such descriptions.
The purpose of this provision is to ensure that relevant stakeholders within and beyond the territory of the concerned WTO Member easily manage to obtain a comprehensive understanding on how to import to, export from, or transit through that territory. This measure also promotes the accessibility of information in a cost-effective and easily manner. This means that WTO Members may include a note restricting the legal validity of such descriptions.
This mandatory provision requires WTO Members to provide a descriptive explanation of the different “practical steps” composing the procedures for importation, exportation and transit. The TFA goes one step further by acknowledging that the publication of legal texts on the Internet may not be enough, and requiring WTO Members to explain in plain language the chain of stages necessary to cross-border trade.
In addition, WTO Members must make available through the Internet all forms and documents required to complete the procedures of importation, exportation and transit as well as the contact details of their enquiry points. Hence, all interested party located anywhere in the world should be able to download the necessary documents and to request electronically, by phone, or even physically answer to specific queries.
A corollary of this measure, Article 1.2.1 also requests WTO Members – “shall to the extent possible and as appropriate” – to keep their website(s) updated in order to provide the latest and most accurate information to the relevant stakeholders, since procedures and requirements may change over time. In this case, the obligation to update information is modulated by the use of the wording “to the extent possible” and “as appropriate”. In other words, these terms reflect a specific nature of commitment and bring some degree of flexibility in the compliance of the obligation to update the information.
The expression “to the extent possible” requires that Members undertake concrete efforts to comply with the provision on information update but may partially implement this measure in terms of either scope or geographical coverage. Along the same lines, the use of the term “appropriate” might induce a certain level of flexibility for Members in implementing a commitment. However, it would not allow them from refraining/desisting from implementation as such: what the provision allows is rather a choice regarding the appropriate method or ways of implementation, which may adapt to a Member’s specific circumstances. Therefore, while WTO Members remain obliged to comply with this requirement, the term “as appropriate” leaves them the choice regarding the suitable method to update the information on the Internet.
The TFA also calls WTO Members to make available the description of import, export and transit procedures, including appeal and review procedures and practical steps for importation, exportation and transit, in one of the official languages of the WTO (English, Spanish or French) – “whenever practicable”. Even in this case, the use of the term “practicable” might induce a certain level of flexibility for Members in accepting and implementing a commitment, enabling Members to determine the appropriate method of implementation or to “adapt” the ways of implementation. In other words, a WTO Member is expected to translate and make these descriptions available through the Internet in one official WTO language as far as it has the technological capacity and the resources, both financial and human resources, to do so.
Other trade-related information
As opposed to the compulsory nature of the previous measures contained in Articles 1.2.1 and 1.2.2, Article 1.2.3 “encourages” WTO Members to make available through Internet additional trade-related information, including relevant trade-related legislation and other items referred to Article 1.1 of the TFA. Due to its best-endeavour nature, WTO Members are hence encouraged to put in force this measure, but ultimately have the discretion whether or not to arrange the electronic availability of further trade-related information.
What is not covered?
Article 1.2 does not require WTO Members to publish the information on one, single, centralized website. Thus, the information published on the Internet can be disseminated on several sites. In all cases, WTO Members shall ensure that the information is identical in all sites in order to set up a predictable environment for the relevant stakeholders.
Pages that cite the Notes: