The first multilateral trade agreement in the World Trade Organization’s 20-year history is slowly edging closer, with nearly 50 WTO members having now ratified the pact – the most recent being the 28 European Union (EU) countries and Thailand.

However, the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) will only enter into force once it has been formally accepted by two-thirds of the WTO’s 160 member countries.

So far, the following WTO members have also accepted the agreement: 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 and New Zealand.

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 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.