A significant workshop organized when the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the WTO has just come into force

On 20 and 21 March 2017, the international workshop on “Trade Facilitation: Experience from Europe and lessons for Vietnam” was jointly held by the Foreign Trade University (FTU) and the Center for International and Community Studies and Research (Aix-Marseille University, France) (CERIC), funded by the WTI/SECO project.
The workshop was of significance both in terms of research and practice in the context that the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) officially came into force on 22 February 2017, remarking the development of the WTO and the multilateral trading system. As one of the Members that ratified the 2014 Protocol for the inclusion of the TFA in the Annex 1A of the Marrakesh Agreement of 1994, Vietnam are in need of establishing action programs and strategies to take advantage of opportunities and overcome challenges arising from the implementation of the TFA.
The workshop welcomed the presence of Prof. Nathalie RUBIO, Director of CERIC; Mr. Roman WINDISCH, Deputy Country Director of SECO Vietnam, Mr. Matthieu PENOT, the Trade Cooperation Officer of EU Delegation to Vietnam and other researchers and experts on international trade law. From the Vietnamese side, there were Mr. Nguyen Toan, Head of International Cooperation Department, General Department of Vietnam Customs as well as representatives from other state agencies, businessmen, lawyers, lecturers, local experts and researchers in the field of international trade in general and trade facilitation in particular. In addition to legal experts, the workshop also attracted the attention of researchers in economics and management sciences, thus bringing a multidimensional picture of trade facilitation.
Asso. Prof. Dr. Bui Anh Tuan, the President of FTU, opened the workshop confirming that international cooperation in scientific research was one of the strategic orientations of the University with an aim to improve its lecturers’ competence. The President also emphasized the successful organization of the workshop would demonstrate the significant development of the Law Faculty and also remark an important event leading to the fifth anniversary of the Faculty’s foundation.
After that, Prof. Nathalie Rubio, on behalf of CERIC, sincerely thanked the FTU for inviting French experts to attend and present the European experience at the Workshop. She also hoped that this Workshop would open new opportunities for cooperation between the two institutions in education and scientific research.
Finally, Mr. Roman Windisch emphasized the importance of Vietnam – Switzerland relationship. The funding from the SECO through the WTI/SECO project for the FTU is a clear demonstration of the Switzerland’s commitments in technical assistance available for developing countries in general and for Vietnam in particular. He further hoped that such cooperation would continue to be promoted in the future.
The workshop from a multidimensional approach of great interest to participants
The sessions started with an opening remark by Prof. Mari-Pierre Lanfranchi from Aix- Marseille University. Emphasizing the absence of the ‘trade facilitation’ definition, Prof. Mari-Pierre Lanfranchi first interpreted the meaning of this term, and then explaining the importance of trade facilitation, especially in the context of the European Union. Last but not least, she stressed that the workshop was a valuable opportunity for experts to discuss a wide range of trade facilitation issues from both theoretical and practical viewpoints. These issues might revolve around several major doctrines such as the role and functions of law in the development and implementation of trade facilitation measures; various aspects of global legal doctrine concerning “the migration of legal terms”; ability to adapt to the rules of international law of the domestic legal system…
Next, the speakers and participants presented and discussed openly their ideas about the topics of the workshop. Through four sessions with thirteen speeches, the Workshop focused on three major issues including: Trade facilitation and the Trade Facilitation Agreement of the WTO; Experience of Europe on trade facilitation; and Legal and practical issues from trade facilitation in Vietnam and some recommendations.
At the first session of Trade facilitation and the TFA, jointly chaired by Dr. Nguyen Minh Hang, Dean of Law Faculty, FTU and Prof. Nathalie Rubio, Director of CERIC, speakers from Vietnam approached the issues from both an economic and legal viewpoint. Asso. Prof. Dr. Trinh Thi Thu Huong, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Economics and International Business, FTU, by analyzing different sets of indicators on trade facilitation and transport, assessed the current state of Vietnam’s transport system as well as stressed the fundamental role of transport infrastructure and logistics in facilitating trade. From a legal perspective, Ms. Ly Van Anh (LLM) from the Diplomatic Academy discussed the relation of the TFA with other agreements of the WTO as well as with other free trade agreements, thus digging deep into bringing provisions of these agreements in the domestic legislation in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the presentation by Prof. Hugues Hellio, from the University of Artois, France introduced interesting analyzes of the relationship between trade facilitation and environmental measures, whereby the professor asserted that the TFA implementation would not limit the Members’ right of environmental protection, but provide them opportunities to improve their environmental measures in the context of global economic integration.
At the second session, under the chairmanship of Prof. Marie-Pierre LANFRANCHI (Aix-Marseille University), international and Vietnamese experts, talked about diverse experiences of the European Union (EU) from the process of formulating trade facilitation policies until implementation and practice of resolving related disputes at the EU courts. First, Prof. Nathalie Rubio discussed the experience of trade facilitation from the settlement of disputes involving Vietnam in the Court of Justice of the European Union. These disputes have allowed clarification of many issues relating to the interpretation of the European law, such as division of jurisdiction, core concepts of anti-dumping regulations. This will help Vietnam as well as Vietnamese businesses in strategy orientation to succeed in European market by applying trade facilitation measures. Then, through the study of the implementation of the single window system and the implementation of the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) program in Europe, two speakers from the FTU, Dr. Nguyen Minh Hang – Dean of Law Faculty and Dr. Phan Thi Thu Hien, Faculty of International Business and Economics, agreed that these are valuable lessons for Vietnam in simplifying customs procedures, promoting trade and improving the domestic business environment.
The third session chaired by Associate Professor Tran Thi Thuy Duong (Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Legal Sciences Journal, Ho Chi Minh City University of Law) was continually devoted to the EU’s experience in the process of trade facilitation. From a macro perspective, GS. Ahmed Mahiou, Aix University – Marseille, France, the former Dean of Law Faculty, Alger University (Algeria), a member of the International Law Institute and the former chairman of the International Law Commission (United Nations), analyzed the bilateral cooperation between the European Union and Algeria, providing a valuable lesson for Vietnam to promote the strategic cooperation between Vietnam and the EU. Besides, from the perspective of management science, Asso. Prof. Dr. Le Thi Thu Thuy, the Vice President of FTU, noted the interplay between supply chain development and trade facilitation, drawing lessons from the experience of supply chain development in the context of trade facilitation in Sweden and Thailand. Finally, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Ha, lecturer of the Faculty of Law, FTU pointed out the role of private sector in trade facilitation. While most of the trade facilitation measures are issued by a state or an international organization, it is undeniable that private actors also have certain sayings. That voice can be expressed through their participation in consultations, cooperation activities to strengthen the competence of the authorities, or in complaints relating to trade facilitation. From the European Union’s practice concerning the involvement of private actors in the facilitation of trade, he also recommended that Vietnam establish a mechanism allowing private entities to request the government to investigate measures obstructing trade facilitation of other countries, overcoming limits of the AEO programs and encouraging regular consultations with private entities.
Hosted at the fourth session, Prof. Nathalie Rubio, Director of CERIC, together with four presenters, Mr. Nguyen Toan – Director of International Cooperation Department, General Department of Vietnam Customs; Asso. Prof., Dr. Tran Thi Thuy Duong – Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Legal Science, HCMC University of Law; Ms. Nguyen Thi Hong Phuc – Customs Department of Hai Phong; Asso. Prof., Dr. Le Thi Thu Ha – FTU, shared their opinions on trade facilitation practices in Vietnam. Mr. Nguyen Toan pointed out the difficulties and challenges, including challenges from internal factors and objective factors for Vietnam in general and customs in particular in the implementation of TFA. In order to implement TFA effectively, according to Mr. Nguyen Toan, it would be essential to strengthen and deepen close cooperation between nations with regards to both policy development and implementation. Looking at each specific aspect, Asso. Prof., Dr. Tran Thi Thuy Duong talked about several issues facing Vietnam during the TFA implantation relating to food safety, while Asso. Prof., Dr. Le Thi Thu Ha addressed the challenges for Vietnam in implementing border controls on intellectual property rights under the TFA. From the position of a customs officer, Ms. Nguyen Thi Hong Phuc brought to the Workshop her practical experience on the process of automatic customs clearance in Hai Phong customs, thereby assessing the achievements and limits as well as making certain proposals to enhance the efficiency of e-customs deployment.
All session were actively involved in discussions by scholars, lawyers and legal experts. Many questions came from experts related to the TFA, the EU’s experience on trade facilitation and issues arising from trade facilitation practices in Vietnam, particularly in the area of simplification of customs procedures, development of infrastructure and logistics systems, national competitiveness enhancement were addressed by the speakers, contributing to a clearer understanding of TFA regulations and opening the way for solving the problems facing Vietnam during the TFA implementation.
Trade facilitation is not a destination but a process
As emphasized by Mr. Nguyen Toan at the Workshop, “Trade facilitation is not a destination but a process”, so it is necessary to strengthen close cooperation between countries, to enhance coordination between the public and the private sectors, and to encourage the involvement of private actors in proposing and implementing trade facilitation initiatives. Despite analyzing different aspects of the TFA implementation, speakers shared the same point that the application of TFA regulations would not jeopardize the rights of members, but instead offer opportunities and great potential to promote free trade. The final session of the workshop suggested new areas of research that could continue to be expanded in the future, such as border control, the issue of maintaining the balance between on one hand, the requirement to control import and export, and on the other hand, the purpose of trade facilitation. Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Ha summarized the various issues discussed at the Workshop, including theoretical and practical issues of trade facilitation within the framework of the European Union and Vietnam from a multidimensional perspective. At the same time, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Ha also summed up the recommendations made in the presentations into three broad categories, namely policy recommendations, institutional recommendations, and other recommendations.
The International Workshop “Trade Facilitation: Experience from Europe and Lessons for Vietnam” has ended with a good impression on participants. With the results achieved through open discussion as well as shared practical experiences, the workshop hopes to provide valuable lessons for Vietnam in implementing and securing compliance with the TFA obligations, thereby promoting trade and improving the business environment in the country. The Workshop also wishes to provide useful and necessary information for Vietnamese businesses to grasp the opportunities and benefits provided by TFA, while promoting their role in the process of reforming administrative procedures in general and customs procedures in particular in Vietnam under the influence of TFA. The Workshop promises to open further opportunities for cooperation between professional agencies, universities and research institutes in the propagation and dissemination of commercial law in Vietnam as well as in the evolution of international trade law.
Here are some photos of the Workshop:

1. Asso. Prof. Dr. Bui Anh Tuan made the opening speech

2. Mr. Roman Windisch, Deputy Country Director SECO, SECO in Vietnam made the opening speech

3. Prof. Nathalie Rubio, Director of CERIC, made the opening speech

4. Prof. Nathalie Rubio, Director of CERIC, gives a souvenir to Asso. Prof. Dr. Bui Anh Tuan, President of FTU

5. Board of Management of FTU take photo with speakers and guests

6. Prof. Marie-Pierre Lanfranchi made an introductory report to the workshop

7. The first session

8. The second session

9. The third session

10. The fourth session

11. Photo taken after the workshop