Market access for goods

Category: International Trade Sub-category: Globalisation
Document type: article

Market access for goods

Market access for goods in the WTO means the conditions, tariff and non-tariff measures, agreed by members for the entry of specific goods into their markets. Tariff commitments for goods are set out in each member's schedules of concessions on goods. The schedules represent commitments not to apply tariffs above the listed rates — these rates are “bound”. Non-tariff measures are dealt with under specific WTO agreements (see list below). WTO Members seek to continually improve market access through the regular WTO work programmed and through negotiations such as those launched at the Doha Ministerial Conference in November 2001.

Work of the Committee on Market Access       

At its meeting on 31 January 1995 the General Council established the WTO Committee on Market Access with the following terms of reference:
The Committee on Market Access shall:
(a) in relation to market access issues not covered by any other WTO body:

  • supervise the implementation of concessions relating to tariffs and non-tariff measures;
  • provide a forum for consultation on matters relating to tariffs and non-tariff measures;

(b) oversee the application of procedures for modification or withdrawal of tariff concessions;

(c) ensure that GATT Schedules are kept up-to-date, and that modifications, including those resulting from changes in tariff nomenclature, are reflected;

(d) conduct the updating and analysis of the documentation on quantitative restrictions and other non-tariff measures, in accordance with the timetable and procedures agreed by the CONTRACTING PARTIES in 1984 and 1985 (BISD 31S/227 and 228, and BISD 32S/92 and 93).

(e) oversee the content and operation of, and access to, the Integrated Data Base;

(f) report periodically — and in any case not less than once a year — to the Council on Trade in Goods.

The bulkiest results of Uruguay Round are the 22,500 pages listing individual countries’ commitments on specific categories of goods and services. These include commitments to cut and “bind” their customs duty rates on imports of goods. In some cases, tariffs are being cut to zero. There is also a significant increase in the number of “bound” tariffs — duty rates that are committed in the WTO and are difficult to raise.

Tariff cuts

Developed countries’ tariff cuts were for the most part phased in over five years from 1 January 1995. The result is a 40% cut in their tariffs on industrial products, from an average of 6.3% to 3.8%. The value of imported industrial products that receive duty-free treatment in developed countries will jump from 20% to 44%.

There will also be fewer products charged high duty rates. The proportion of imports into developed countries from all sources facing tariffs rates of more than 15% will decline from 7% to 5%. The proportion of developing country exports facing tariffs above 15% in industrial countries will fall from 9% to 5%.

The Uruguay Round package has been improved. On 26 March 1997, 40 countries accounting for more than 92% of world trade in information technology products, agreed to eliminate import duties and other charges on these products by 2000 (by 2005 in a handful of cases). As with other tariff commitments, each participating country is applying its commitments equally to exports from all WTO members (i.e. on a most-favoured-nation basis), even from members that did not make commitments.

More bindings

Developed countries increased the number of imports whose tariff rates are “bound” (committed and difficult to increase) from 78% of product lines to 99%. For developing countries, the increase was considerable: from 21% to 73%. Economies in transition from central planning increased their bindings from 73% to 98%. This all means a substantially higher degree of market security for traders and investors.

And agriculture

Tariffs on all agricultural products are now bound. Almost all import restrictions that did not take the form of tariffs, such as quotas, have been converted to tariffs — a process known as “tariffication”. This has made markets substantially more predictable for agriculture. Previously more than 30% of agricultural produce had faced quotas or import restrictions. The first step in “tariffication” was to replace these restrictions with tariffs that represented about the same level of protection. Then, over six years from 1995-2000, these tariffs were gradually reduced (the reduction period for developing countries ends in 2005). The market access commitments on agriculture also eliminate previous import bans on certain products.

In addition, the lists include countries’ commitments to reduce domestic support and export subsidies for agricultural products.