The WTO General Council today agreed a simplified and accelerated procedure for accession of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to the WTO. This move culminates the initiative launched by the EU in 1999 aimed at facilitating accession of poorest countries to the WTO, taken up in turn by the Third UN Conference on LDCs in Brussels in May 2001. The procedure will be immediately applicable to LDCs currently in the accession process. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: Accession to the WTO is a crucial step for LDCs striving for development and integration in world trade and the agreement reached today brings that goal within reach for a number of them. So thats excellent news.
The decision on a simplified and accelerated accession procedure for LDCs was taken by the WTO General Council meeting in Geneva between 10-13 December 2002 and it is part of the work programme agreed at Doha in November 2001 on Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries.
No LDC has joined the WTO since 1995. This reflects the difficulty for countries with poor institutional capacities to cope with the negotiations and reforms entailed by the WTO accession process. Nine LDCs are now in the accession process to the WTO. The new procedure will immediately benefit these countries.
The main features of this procedure are:
- WTO Members will refrain from asking acceding LDCs to make excessive concessions or commitments, notably those incompatible with their individual development, financial and trade needs ;
- Granting of transitional periods to enable acceding LDCs to effectively implement commitments and obligations ;
- Good offices of the Director-General available throughout the process to assist LDCs and the chairpersons of the LDCs Accession working parties ;
- WTO Secretariat support in information exchange and accession procedures ;
- Technical assistance provided by Members on a priority basis to cover all stages of the accession process, from the preparation of documentation to the enforcement of WTO rules.
In 1999 the EU tabled in Geneva a concrete proposal to streamline the accession process of Least Developed Countries. This initiative sparked a debate which lead to an international commitment at the Third UN Conference on LDCs (LDC III, Brussels, 14-20 May 2001) to facilitate and accelerate the accession process of LDCs to the WTO. This commitment was then integrated in the WTO work programme agreed at the Doha Ministerial Conference (9-14 November 2001).
49 countries belong to the Least Developed Country list, which was established and is regularly reviewed by the UN on the basis of objective criteria. 30 LDCs were parties to the GATT before the creation of the WTO in 1995 and thus automatically became WTO Members. No LDC joined the WTO since then. Nine LDCs are currently seeking accession: Bhutan, Cambodia, Cap Verde, Laos, Nepal, Samoa, Vanuatu, Yemen.
The EU attaches great importance to the accession process of LDCs to the WTO. While the EU grants all LDCs total and unconditional access to its market under the Everything but Arms initiative, and some other WTO Members have followed the EU example, this is not the case everywhere else. In addition to the benefits of greater market access, WTO rules would underpin domestic reform which many LDCs need to carry out to make their markets more efficient and more attractive to investors.
The EU will continue to facilitate the accession process of LDCs by unilaterally applying the negotiating benchmarks that it has set in its 1999 proposal. These are aimed at striking a balance between LDCs need to open their markets and integrate in the global economy on the one hand, and their concern to protect economic sectors that need time to become internationally competitive and to raise revenue through customs duties on the other hand. Likewise, the EU will restrain its requests to LDCs to open services sectors to foreign providers. At the same time, the EU is encouraged by the willingness of many acceding LDCs to go voluntarily beyond these benchmarks and to jump ahead in using international trade and investment as an important element of their national economic growth and development strategies.
The EU will also continue to provide technical assistance to help LDCs build the necessary capacity to take advantage of the trade opportunities that WTO Membership will open to them.
Over the past five years, the EU provided a total amount of 640 million of trade-related technical assistance to developing countries. A special priority is given to LDCs, notably through the Integrated Framework (IF) for Least Developed Countries that was established by IMF, World Bank, UNCTAD, UNDP, WTO and ITC (50% of the IF Trust Fund is pledged by the EU). In addition, some EU programmes specifically support the accession process of LDCs to the WTO, such as the one with Cambodia (2 million).
For more information: