The first multilateral trade agreement in the World Trade Organization's 20-year history is edging closer, with 81 WTO members having now ratified the pact – the most recent being Sri Lanka.

The so-called Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) agreement, which will reduce trade barriers and eliminate border transaction costs for companies around the world, will go into effect when ratified by two-thirds (108) of the WTO's 161 member countries.

Sri Lanka notified its acceptance of the agreement yesterday (31 May) – a move that means the WTO now has around three-quarters of the targeted 108 members needed to accept the TFA.

Earlier this month WTO members were also urged to start preparing for the TFA's entry into force by notifying the WTO what their technical assistance and capacity-building needs are, and how much time they will need to ensure effective implementation of the agreement.

The TFA is part of a wider 'Bali Package', which was agreed in December 2013, and has been hailed as marking a major milestone in global trade.

The purpose of the agreement is to simplify and modernise procedures for the movement of goods, including import and export procedures. The aim is to help smaller businesses exploit export opportunities and to facilitate developing countries' participation in international trade.

The agreement contains provisions for expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods, including goods in transit, and sets out measures for cooperation between customs and other authorities on trade facilitation and customs compliance issues.

It will ultimately reduce trade barriers and eliminate border transaction costs and, for the apparel industry, with a retail value of over US$1.3 trillion and a complex worldwide supply chain, the benefits of a deal are seen as significant.  

In addition to Sri Lanka, the following WTO members have also accepted the TFA: Hong Kong China, Singapore, the United States, Mauritius, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Botswana, Trinidad and Tobago, the Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Niger, Belize, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, China, Liechtenstein, Lao PDR, New Zealand, Togo, Thailand, the European Union (on behalf of its 28 member states), the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan, Panama, Guyana, Côte d'Ivoire, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Kenya, Myanmar, Norway, Viet Nam, Brunei, Ukraine, Zambia, Lesotho, Georgia, Seychelles, Jamaica, Mali, Cambodia, Paraguay, Turkey, Brazil, Macao China, the United Arab Emirates, Samoa, India and the Russian Federation, Montenegro, Albania and Kazakhstan.