Tariff Concessions widen by 32%
The fourth Ministerial Council Session of the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement was successfully concluded on 13 January 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Sri Lanka Delegation was led by Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen and included Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Thailand Shenuka Seneviratne, the Director General of Commerce Sonali Wijeratne and officials of the Department of Commerce and Ministry of Finance.
The 50th Session of the Standing Committee of APTA was held back-to-back with the 4thn Ministerial Council Meeting and was chaired by Director General of Commerce, Department of Commerce.
The Bangkok Agreement, signed in 1975, is the first Asia-Pacific preferential trade agreement of the region and was renamed the ‘Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA)’ in 2006. APTA is the only trade agreement which connects countries that belong to different sub regions in Asia-Pacific. China and South Korea belong to East Asia whereas India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh belong to South Asia.
Commerce Ministers from the member countries signed the protocol to conclude the 4th round of concessions on behalf of their respective governments and the 4th round commitments are to be implemented by 1 July 2017. The 4th round of tariff concessions has widened the coverage of preferences of total tariff concessions by at least 32% to 34% of the total intra-regional trade under the agreement. Moreover, the number of products under preferential tariff concessions increased to 10,677 items from the 4,270 agreed to in the 3rd round.
Delivering his opening remark, Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, who led the Sri Lankan delegation to the 4th Ministerial Council, appreciated the significant advances made towards broadening the APTA agenda from that of trade in goods to liberalisation of services, investment and trade facilitation and urged to early conclusion of negotiations on commitments in these areas which would pave the way for further expansion of trade, investment and economic integration.
Furthermore, he stated that the Preferential Trade Agreements are for the benefit of the business community as they liberalise and remove barriers to trade and provide regulatory frameworks for them to conduct and expand their business. Appreciating the initiative of Sri Lanka’s Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FCCI) for formation of APTA Chamber, the minister requested other member countries to encourage their private sectors to involve themselves vigorously in this process.
Sri Lanka’s total trade with all other member countries of the APTA have expanded significantly, particularly since China’s accession to APTA in 2001. Sri Lanka’s exports to the member countries of the APTA, which stood at $ 64.46 million in 2010 has increased to $ 113.53 million as at November 2016. Sri Lanka’s imports from member countries also increased from $ 12.16 million in 2010 to $ 12.50 million as at November 2016. In the context of Sri Lanka not having bilateral trade agreements with China and the Republic of Korea, APTA is the only agreement through which Sri Lankan exporters can penetrate into such markets. The 4th round of concessions would definitely pave the way to further expansion of exports to APTA member countries.
With regard to a future road map of APTA, ministers of APTA countries discussed further expansion of the membership and upgrades to the PTA to FTA/CEPA.
Members endorsed holding the 5th Session of the Ministerial Council in Sri Lanka in 2019.