Article 1.3: Enquiry Points
What is covered?
Scope and objective
Article 1.3 confines the scope of the queries to be submitted to enquiry points to the items listed in Article 1.1 on Publication. In addition, enquiry points are requested to provide forms and documents required for importation, exportation and transit procedures, if requested by an interested party.
The Measure aims at enhancing transparency and predictability through the fluent flows of information among WTO Members and relevant stakeholders. The objective is to provide easily accessible, precise and complete information in a timely and cost-effective way, aiming to prevent misunderstandings and solving doubts of concerned stakeholders prior to a transaction.
Each WTO Member shall establish or maintain at least one enquiry point for specific trade-related enquiries at the national level. Each WTO Member is required to establish or maintain at least one enquiry point for specific trade-related enquiries at the national level. As export, import and transit procedures involve several border agencies, the TFA implicitly acknowledge that one agency may not count with all the expertise and documents required to reply the queries. Therefore, the Agreement leaves to WTO Members the decision to set up one centralized enquiry point or several enquiry points in different border agencies.
As detailed in subparagraph 3.1, the matters on which the enquiry point(s) has competence to respond are limited to the items listed in Article 1.1 of the TFA. However, the enforcement of this obligation is diluted by the qualifying language "within its available resources". This means that the implementation of this measure is mandatory; nonetheless the extent of the implementation is conditional upon the available financial, human, technical or technological resources of the concerned WTO Member.
The Measure specifies that the stakeholders entitled to request information and documentation to the enquiry points are either governments, traders or other interested parties. The requesting party, whether from the public or private sector, is thus allowed to submit her/his query without having to justify the reasons for the query.
The Agreement encourages WTO Members to supply enquiry points’ services to stakeholders free of fees. Nonetheless, if applying a fee on the service rendered, WTO Members are requested to ensure that the amount charged does not exceed the approximate cost of the services provided, avoiding the imposition of any unjustifiably high fee.
The Measure states that enquiry points must provide answers and documents within a reasonable time period, depending on the nature and complexity of the request submitted by the party. The Measure allows WTO Members to use their discretion to set the extent of a “reasonable time” period on a case-by-case basis, according to the nature and complexity of the request received.
Regional enquiry points
To achieve optimum results in implementing trade facilitation reforms, WTO Members, which are part of regional arrangements, such as Preferential Trade Agreements, Free Trade Agreements, Customs Unions, Common Markets, etc., may set up or maintain one or more common enquiry points for common procedures operated at the regional level. According to the provision, WTO Members which are part of regional communities have discretion to decide whether or not to implement regional enquiry points.
Joint enquiry points at the regional level would facilitate the flow of harmonized information among governments and traders to learn about the respective procedures, documents and restrictions in place. By acting as a kind of “one-stop shops”, they would increase information transparency and effectiveness, coordinating and streamlining efficiently the sharing of information on common procedures and documentation. At the same time, a regional approach reduces the costs of the implementation of setting up an enquiry point, particularly beneficial for developing countries and LDCs.
What is not covered?
The Agreement does not specify the nature and specific features of enquiry points. In fact, the Agreement does not detail whether the enquiry point should be a dedicated governmental office, a helpline managed by existing bodies, an automated system or a non-public entity tasked to answer traders’ queries. An independent private body contracted by the government may also perform the activities of an enquiry point, as provided by the TFA. In this case, the government should monitor and assess the good performance and accuracy of the information provided by this body. Moreover, the Agreement does not mention whether the requested information and documentation should be provided in hard or soft copy. Thus, the enquiry points may employ both means when replying to enquiries.
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