The Rules of Origin Facilitator was presented to WTO members yesterday during a meeting of the Committee on Rules of Origin

The Rules of Origin Facilitator was presented to WTO members yesterday during a meeting of the Committee on Rules of Origin

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is joining forces with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and World Customs Organization (WCO) on an initiative designed to help firms to take fuller advantages of benefits under free and preferential trade arrangements by helping them comply with product rules of origin requirements.

Presented to WTO members yesterday (17 October), the new Rules of Origin Facilitator provides companies with free access to a searchable database on duty savings in trade agreements, and the corresponding rules of origin.

It is described as "the first comprehensive global online resource on tariffs, trade agreements and rules of origin designed with SMEs in mind" and allows users to find out import duties in foreign markets applicable to their product, available duty savings, detailed rules of origin, and certification procedures.

Availability of this information will help reduce transaction costs and make it easier for firms to claim reduced or zero duty rates under free and preferential trade arrangements, according to the WTO. The information, it says, will be of particular benefit to small and medium-sized firms by allowing them to access the information through an easy-to-navigate system.

Rules of origin are the criteria used to define where a product was made and are important for implementing other trade policy measures, including preferences in favour of developing countries or least developed countries (LDCs).

In a video message, WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said companies must understand and use dozens of different types of rules of origin to use the tariff preferences now in force in hundreds of bilateral and regional trade agreements. Each preferential agreement has its own specific obligations regarding the certification and transportation of goods.

"Governments and companies need reliable information about rules of origin," he said.  "And this information needs to be accessible for free, in simple, standardised language.

"The Facilitator fills a real gap.  We believe this tool will prove especially useful for smaller companies in developing and least developed countries. These are the companies that have greatest trouble navigating international trade requirements."

According to the WTO, the Rules of Origin Facilitator is "the most comprehensive tool of its kind available," covering product-specific rules of origin as well as provisions on origin certification in more than 300 agreements and applied by more than 190 countries. The goal is to expand coverage to include not only all preferential schemes currently in force worldwide but also to cover non-preferential rules of origin requirements.

Accessing information on rules of origin in trade agreements has been a struggle for firms, particularly smaller ones. According to an ITC business survey covering 60 countries, rules of origin were identified as the most common source of trade constraints by micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs).

Detailed apparel specific rules of origin are also a key feature of each of the free trade or trade preference agreements covered in the re-source by just-style strategic sourcing tool.