EU easing trade rules for poor countries

GENEVA, Oct. 6, 2010 — The EU is due to adopt a simplified set of rules of origins for developing countries exports. Particular relaxations are foreseen for the least developed countries (LDCs), but the rules may mainly profit the strongest of them.

In today’s global supply chain, determining the origin of a pair of jeans — that may be designed in Italy, with denim tissue from Pakistan, yarn from Tunisia, the zip from France, final production in Lesotho, manufacturing in Tunisia and recycling in China — is a real headache.

Industrialised countries have granted preferential trade regimes to developing ones mainly by reducing import tariffs. But the latter have not been able to fully benefit from these arrangements because of other non-tariff barriers. Among these, rules of origin are a particularly difficult hurdle, but the European Union (EU) is on its way to changing its system.

“Right now we are not exporting one single textile to the EU,” a diplomat from an African LDC told IPS in an interview, “but rather to the U.S. because the AGOA scheme (the African Growth and Opportunity Act, that grants preferential market access to African exports) is much more relaxed in terms of RoO, among others. But maybe with the new European regime we will see more investors coming in.”

“Since 2003, the EU wanted to overhaul and simplify all RoO on its preferential trade regimes, starting with the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP),” says Andreas Julin, first counsellor at the EU delegation in Geneva.

The GSP is a preferential trade regime accorded by the EU to 176 developing countries that grants them entry into the European market at lower tariff rates. For LDCs, it foresees duty-free and quota-free market access for all their products under the ‘Everything but Arms’ initiative.

The new regulations should be adopted at the end of October. One of the major novelties is the simplification and relaxation of the appropriate rules for determining the origin of a product, that will be adapted to each sector.

For processed goods, what counts is the place where the substantial transformation has taken place, that is, the last country where it emerged from a given process with a distinctive name, character or use.

One way of determining that is to simplify the classification of products according to their tariff headings. Another is to look at the value added, and here “one of the major breakthroughs is that we have specific rules for LDCs,” said Andreas Julin. “We will require only 30 percent of local content on processed agricultural products, compared to 50 percent to 70 percent before.” The third way is to identify specific processing techniques goods have to go through to qualify for a preferential rule of origin.


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