Consultation and Cooperation

Consultation and cooperation are participatory processes to involve stakeholders from the private and public sectors in the policy process. Consultation is a means to establish a dialogue between government authorities and their stakeholders, including parties from the private sector and other government bodies, over policies, legislation, and operational practices. Cooperation refers to a process of actively sharing responsibilities and tasks in a business process and jointly deliver a service. Different governmental departments and agencies interact with each other and move from isolated actions within a single organization to business processes that are developed and shared across organizational boundaries. Increasingly, the private sector is integrated into the shared business process.

Relevance for trade facilitation

Trade facilitation has wide ranging implications for the government and the private sector. It affects the legal framework, the organizational culture and structures of public authorities, and requires changes in the service design and delivery. To respond to these reform challenges, Government and administrations change the way how they collaborate with each other and with the business sector.

Trade facilitation takes places within a fragmented environment of institutions and complex legal framework. Overlapping responsibilities and turf wars between governmental departments and agencies often limit the effectiveness of government intervention. Government therefore increasingly realise the need for closer working relationships and arrangements between the various agencies that intervene on commercial goods moving across the border. In doing so they identify opportunities for exchange of information and data, aligning and coordinating practices and processes and sharing infrastructure. This allows border crossing and clearance processes to be redesigned and simplified without while strengthening the services and controls delivered by the various public bodies. An area where cooperation is particular important is Border Agency cooperation. As many public agencies are present at the border the agencies must coordinate procedures and operations and share resources to reduce border delays.

Government and the public agencies increasingly involve the business community in the decision-making and law making process. They inform traders and other interested parties about their plans, policies, and project of laws for new or amended legislation and invite the business community to provide opinion, comments, views and feed-back on those plans and laws. In many countries, key governmental bodies such as the customs administration now hold regular consultative meetings (formal trade consultation) that allow for a continuous information sharing and active involvement of the business community in all steps of the decision making and law making process.

Strong involvement of the business community is found in trade facilitation projects implemented in a public – private partnership (PPP), as is often seen in Port Community Systems or Single Windows for trade.

Benefits

Cooperation between public agencies and departments and consultation with trade and other stakeholders can lead to the following benefits:

  • Solutions and laws reflect real needs and provide more forward looking solutions
  • Increased legitimacy of proposed changes and enhanced compliance in implementation
  • Increased confidence in government institutions and trust amongst partners
  • Establishment of a cross-sector dialogue and information sharing
  • Less conflicts amongst different groups and between the private sector and government agencies
  • Partnership, ownership and responsibility in implementation
  • More effective and forward looking harmonization and simplification efforts.

International framework

The importance of private-public consultation and agency cooperation for trade facilitation is globally accepted. Several international conventions formulate obligations for their contracting Parties and member States in this area.
The Chicago Convention and the FAL Convention require Governments to establish committees to coordinate facilitation activities across governments departments and with selected business partners, such as ship-owners, airport operators. Standard 1.3. of the General Annex of the Revised Kyoto Convention requires Customs to institute and maintain formal consultative relationships with the trade. The more recent draft for a WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation requires Member States to provide for regular consultations between border agencies and trader or other stakeholders (Article 2.2.), and to provide opportunities to comment on new or amended laws and regulations for traders and other interested parties (Article 2.1.). In addition, Members shall establish or maintain a national trade facilitation committee to support the implementation of the Agreement (Article 12.2).

Considerations for implementation

An enabling environment is required to ensure active involvement and participation of private sector. Conditions for this environment include political will, favourable legislation, clear procedures and an organisational setting for the dialogue, consultation and cooperation.

Governments can use different forms and models for their consultation practice. These models have to be adapted to the level of participation (open or restricted participation), existing relationships and the objectives of the consultation. Information meetings, open door or private sector days and conferences offer the opportunity to disseminate information to either a broad public or a limited group of interested parties. The publication of new legislation prior to its adoption and invitation of comments from traders allows the business sector to participate in the law making process. Formal Customs and Trade consultation processes and trade facilitation advisory bodies provide for a regular platform for the dialogue and cooperation amongst stakeholders from the private and public sector.

Effective consultation and cooperation depends on trust, experience and the right stakeholder management. There are many trade facilitation stakeholders with different interests and requirements that have to get involved and be managed. A systematic stakeholder analysis is therefore an underlying requirement to make consultation work.
Several instruments are available that provide guidance for governments on how to organise effective consultation and cooperation. The UNECE Recommendation 4 and its guidelines give background on how to set up trade facilitation advisory body with broad stakeholder participation.

The UNCTAD Technical Note No. 18 Multiagency working group addresses effective consultation during the WTO negotiating process, and the RKC guidelines and ICC Customs guideline No 29 give more detail on Customs-Trade consultation. The Council of Europe Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process provides useful cross-sector guidelines on how to involve the public.