500th Amendment to ‘WTO Goods Schedule’

The update of Argentina’s WTO Goods Schedule, which was formally initiated on 26 July, marks the 500th notification under special procedures to modify these important legal instruments that form an integral part of the WTO legal texts.

By ensuring security, transparency and predictability for trade in goods, the schedules of commitments constitute the backbone of the multilateral trading system.

The amendment of Argentina’s Goods Schedule was necessary to reflect changes resulting from the 2002 version of the Harmonized System, an international nomenclature developed by the World Customs Organization and used by WTO members to classify goods for customs purposes.

Although reference is normally made to “the” schedule of concessions of a WTO member, there are often different legal instruments that comprise it, as each amendment to the schedule must be officially recorded in order to take effect.

These changes are usually called “rectifications” and “modifications” and can result from a number of different procedures, ranging from the formal correction of errors to the renegotiation of a tariff commitment.

Recently, members have modified their goods schedules to record new tariff commitments under the expanded Information Technology Agreement and to eliminate farm export subsidies in line with the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Decision.

In order to amend a goods schedule, a member must follow specific procedures which were agreed back in 1980. Through them, all WTO members have an opportunity to review the proposed change and make comments if necessary. To date, more than 97% of the procedures amending goods schedules have been successfully concluded.

What is a WTO schedule?

WTO schedules are legal instruments that describe the treatment a member must provide to the trade of other WTO members. They are one of the main WTO tools to ensure transparency, security, and predictability for world trade.

Schedules result from negotiations among members, both in the multilateral (among all WTO members) and plurilateral (among some members) context. All goods schedules include “bound duties”, i.e. maximum tariffs that can be applied by a member for a particular product, as well as other non-tariff concessions. They also reflect members’ commitments limiting subsidies for agricultural products.

Although practitioners typically refer to “the” schedule of a member, these concessions and commitments can be spread out over several legal instruments that, together, set out that member’s obligations.

Most schedules have changed considerably since the Uruguay Round of trade talks were concluded in 1994.

Schedules are an integral part of WTO legal texts and each member must have one for Goods and another one for Services.

While most schedules were established during the Uruguay Round in 1994, others have resulted from accessions to the WTO.

There are 135 schedules for the 164 WTO members. The European Union has a single Schedule for all its member states.

Schedules are identified by a unique Roman numeral which has been assigned according to the moment in which a member has joined the GATT or the WTO. The first one is “Schedule I – Australia” and the most recent is “Schedule CLXXIV – Liberia”.

92 of the schedules are written in English, 24 in French, and 19 in Spanish. The contents are not translated.

The “1980 Procedures”:

The large majority of changes to goods schedules take place under the so-called “1980 Procedures for the modification and rectification of Schedules”.

Under these procedures, all WTO members have an opportunity to review the proposed changes and to approve them if there are no objections from other members.

In the absence of any objections, the proposed changes are “certified” by the WTO Director General.  To date, more than 97% of such procedures have been successfully concluded.