Bridges Africa talks Azanaw Tadesse Abreha, the Minister Counsellor of the Ethiopian mission in Geneva
"I think the benchmarks on goods adopted with the accession guidelines would serve as a basis for improvement of the commitments to be made by acceding LDCs.
The General Council established a working party to examine the application of Ethiopia in February 2003. Ethiopia's memorandum on its foreign trade regime was circulated in January 2007. The second and third working party on Ethiopia's accession to the WTO were held in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Preparations are underway to convene the fourth working party meeting.
Least Developed Countries (LDCs) which acceded to the WTO in recent years have lamented the fact that WTO members ask them to take on commitments which are beyond their capacities during the bidding process. For instance, this is the case when it comes to binding levels and binding coverage of tariff lines. Do you think that the benchmarks adopted with the accession guidelines will limit this problem?
I think the benchmarks on goods adopted with the accession guidelines would serve as a basis for improvement in terms of less commitments to be made by acceding LDCs.
For many applicant countries, accession to the WTO has been and still is a frustratingly slow process: What are the main contentious issues that are slowing down the progress in accession negotiations?
Yes, accession to the WTO is a protracted and long process. There are a number of reasons for this. Accession involves two levels of negotiations: bilateral and multilateral levels. Bilateral market access negotiations involve market access agreement with the acceding country on an offer and request basis. Multilateral negotiations are conducted with a view to verify whether the country presenting the accession bid is bringing its domestic trade laws to conform to the multilateral trade rules. Negotiations at both levels take time.
What is the level of awareness of the accession guidelines among LDCs?
I think LDCs level of awareness of the accession guidelines is low as a reflection of the overall low level of capacity of the LDCs.
What is the level of awareness of the obligations arising from being a member in the
I have the feeling that this level is quite low among LDCs. I think this is not a unique feature of an acceding LDC or LDCs as a group. In general, if a country is outside of any system the likelihood of that country's awareness of that system is bound to be low. What is perhaps challenging for the LDCs would be that once they decide to become members and embark on the accession process they are likely to have constraints in terms of capacity- building due to their overall level of development, which is why technical assistance is a key component of the accession guidelines. For example, once you applied for accession you can tape in the activities of the Institute for Training and Technical cooperation of the WTO.
Did the guidelines change the way accession negotiations take place? Have they sped-up the process?
I think it is too early to pass judgement on whether or not the guidelines have resulted in speeding up the accession process. The guidelines need to be given some time so that we draw lessons on whether or not they have facilitated and simplified the accession process.
Which elements of the guidelines have been the most helpful so far for LDC applicants?
I think the most helpful would be the benchmarks on goods. I should hasten to add that a high priority level given to the accession of LDCs by policy makers at the WTO, and at the Ministerial level, would create an atmosphere that would simplify the accession process for LDCs.
What are limitations and how could the Guidelines be improved or put to better practice?
More could have been done in terms of drawing benchmarks related to the commitments made by LDC members of the WTO.
How do you envisage the impact on WTO accession on Ethiopian trade?
Accession to the WTO would enhance the achievement of development objectives and integration into the global economy. Accession to the WTO would also improve the predictability and security for Ethiopia's foreign trade. It would help Ethiopia develop its productive capacity which is fundamental if Ethiopia is to benefit from trade.
What are the decisive factors for success in the negotiation for Ethiopia's WTO entry?
The key factor for Ethiopia's success in the negotiations would be ensuring a package of accession that is consistent with, and supportive of Ethiopia's development trajectory.
The benchmarks on services were extremely difficult to negotiate and criticised by a few for the lack of details. Imboden, a former Swiss diplomat, said that "The proposed benchmarks on services are a missed opportunity. The proposed text (...) clearly shows that no serious effort has been made to show either the importance of services for the development of the countries concerned, or to find some common ground on what would be a reasonable approach to services negotiations." Do you think this is the case? What, in your view, would be a reasonable approach?
Well, the reasonable approach would have been what the LDCs had proposed: a benchmark based on the average number of services sectors and sub-sectors committed by the LDC members of the WTO. This would have been a fair approximation of the commitments made by LDC members of the WTO.
Azanaw Tadesse Abreha is the Minister Counsellor of the permanent mission of Ethiopia in Geneva, Switzerland.
ICTSD reporting; "Ethiopia Plans to Make WTO Offer on Services by September," BLOOMBERG, 15 July 2013; "Ethiopia expected to join WTO in 2015 - ministry," REUTERS, 10 July 2013.