Four years of work by the WTO Secretariat bore fruit with the launch on 9 October 2020 of the new import licensing database.
The new platform gathers together import licensing information, analysis and reporting and streamlines notification procedures for WTO members.
At a meeting of the Committee on Import Licensing, members commended the work done by WTO staff to provide a one-stop shop for members and interested parties seeking to access information on import licensing procedures.
The new database was presented at a meeting of the Committee on Import Licensing on 9 October, chaired by Dr. Mohammad Irfan of Pakistan.
Deputy Director-General Yi Xiaozhun provided opening remarks to mark the launch of the new platform, recalling that the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures is one of the oldest agreements in the history of the WTO and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
He highlighted that its establishment dates back to the Tokyo Round of trade negotiations (1973–79).
DDG Yi stressed that as one of the most frequently used trade policy instruments applied by almost all governments, the use of import licensing has extended from enforcing quantitative restrictions and collecting trade statistics to safeguarding product quality, the environment, consumer welfare, public health and national security.
“Transparency makes trade more inclusive and predictable. Enhanced efficiency, achieved through easy access to information, further reduces trade costs of both exporters and importers. I fully believe that the new WTO import licensing database will significantly improve transparency in this important field and will benefit all members, especially those developing members who have capacity and resource constraints, as well as SMEs and MSMEs,” DDG Yi said.
The new database is a comprehensive information centre containing all members’ legislation, procedures and product information relating to import licensing. Offering a user-friendly interface, the platform will allow members and the business community to find import licensing information more efficiently and to make better use of the information contained in members’ notifications.
With the technical support of the WTO’s Information Technology Solutions Division (ITSD), staff at the Market Access Division designed the structure of the new platform, reviewed and analyzed all import licensing notifications submitted by members since 1995 and uploaded profiles of 134 members.
They also verified over 2,500 pieces of legislation to make sure all links lead to the relevant information and to ensure accuracy regarding more than 1,000 products and procedures.
Members took the floor to congratulate the Secretariat for the hard work in creating the database and noted that the new platform will be a valuable contribution to the Committee’s activities. It will also promote compliance with WTO members’ transparency obligations.
This will be especially helpful for developing countries which have capacity constraints. Many members emphasized that the database is a powerful example of how WTO members can improve transparency in a way that also assists importers and exporters.
Import licences are permits granted before a product is imported. The administrative procedures for obtaining the licences should be simple, neutral, equitable and transparent. Where possible they should be given automatically and quickly, and even if they are non-automatic, they should not obstruct trade unnecessarily.