On 2 November 2017 the Government of Serbia enacted the Decision Establishing the National Trade Facilitation Body (NTFB). This entity will provide an efficient means of public-private coordination to ensure the enhancement and streamlining of regulatory procedures for foreign trade. The NTFB will be chaired by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, and its Vice-Chair will be the Assistant Director / Coordinator with the Customs Administration. The body’s members will be drawn from the ranks of senior managers of public authorities responsible for enacting regulations and carrying out imports, exports, and transit controls.
Since it is a fundamental aim of Serbia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the European Union (EU), the alignment of national legislation – including regulations governing foreign trade – with EU law and WTO rules is a key responsibility for Serbian authorities.
Article 23.2 of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement requires WTO members to establish national trade facilitation committees. The Trade Facilitation Agreement entered into effect on 22 February 2017 following its ratification by two-thirds of the WTO membership, whereupon it also became binding on acceding countries, including Serbia. As such, a national trade facilitation body became a prerequisite for Serbia’s accession to the WTO.
Moreover, parties to CEFTA have undertaken to apply WTO rules regardless of their membership in the WTO, in particular by subscribing to the CEFTA Joint Declaration Concerning the Application of WTO Rules and Procedures. Application of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and its requirement for a national trade facilitation body are also mandatory for Serbia under CEFTA. The need to facilitate trade and apply the rules and principles of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement within CEFTA received particular emphasis and currency in May 2017 with the enactment of CEFTA Additional Protocol 5 on Trade Facilitation.
The resolution of ongoing problems faced by the private sector in importing and exporting goods requires a functional mechanism for coordination between public authorities, but such a forum has to date been lacking. The NTFB remedies this problem by providing an efficient means of public-private coordination that will be useful in enhancing and streamlining customs and other regulatory and control procedures.
The efficiency of imports and exports procedures does not depend only on legislation but also on the ability and capacity of all relevant authorities to complete these procedures as quickly as possible. The weakest link determines the strength of the entire regulatory chain. Notwithstanding the differences in their respective remits, all authorities are faced with similar problems (risk assessment, consistent application of rules, lack of human resources and IT support, etc.), platforms such as the NTFB may also serve as venues for exchanging best practices between government bodies in their endeavors to find the most effective means to address these issues.