When leaders of the 21 nations in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meet in Honolulu this fall, the U.S. hopes they will reach agreement on some of trade facilitation’s oldest issues.
Tariff barriers have been falling for years, but the APEC members recognize that importers and exporters face inconsistent customs procedures and rules that impair the free flow of goods across borders. The Nov. 12-13 meeting will mark the first time since 1993 the U.S. hosts APEC. It’s the host’s prerogative to focus on particular pieces of an action plan the group adopted in 2010 to improve supply chain efficiency across the regions.
The action plan identifies eight “chokepoints” that create friction in international commercial channels. Among them are a lack of awareness and transparency among customs administrations about policies and regulations affecting shippers and intermediaries.
Lack of capacity, inefficient clearance of goods, lack of coordination and standards at the border among customs administrations, and burdensome paperwork and procedures are other targets of the action plan. The plan also seeks ways to improve transportation infrastructure for shipments by land or air.
As part of the agenda, the U.S. wants to concentrate on questions of valuation, classification and rules of origin, according to officials with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.
The tariff schedules of 14 APEC economies include a de minimis value, which waives tariffs on goods valued below a certain level, but the level ranges from $1 to $900. The U.S. de minimis value is $200.
The U.S. hopes APEC economies will agree to a “commercially useful” baseline de minimis value, with the option that any member may raise it. (For information on tariffs and rules of origin among all APEC members, see www.apec.org/en/Groups/Committee-on-Trade-and-Investment/Rules-of-Origin/WebTR.aspx.)
To get APEC economies and leaders more involved in trade facilitation, the U.S. is encouraging APEC members to join a World Bank program that is forming partnerships between governments and the private sector. Officials said APEC economies would benefit from the help of companies within the region to solve problems of customs procedures.
Consistent with the Obama administration’s National Export Initiative, the USTR wants to help small and midsize companies overcome trade barriers in the Pacific region. One of the objectives is to “have a big impact on the ability of our country to export into other markets,” officials said.
The USTR recently completed a comprehensive database of preferential tariff rates among all APEC members. The online tool allows businesses to find out tariff rates for goods moving from New Zealand to Japan, Peru to Thailand, or anywhere else.
Arrow Augerot, deputy assistant trade representative for APEC, said the organization operates by consensus among members, and any agreement is non-binding. However, if all agree to take steps to improve something such as trade facilitation, political leaders usually follow through.
“When APEC leaders say they will do something, generally they go ahead and do it,” Augerot said. “The goal is to select practical, concrete objectives to make it possible for economies to implement.”
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