Liberia concludes its WTO accession process

12 October 2015

Liberia concludes its WTO accession process

On 6 October 2015, WTO members negotiating Liberia’s accession agreed, by consensus, upon the country’s conditions for WTO accession. This step, which concludes the technical work of the negotiation process, paves the way for the formal adoption of the accession conditions by Ministers during the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference, which will take place in Nairobi from 15 to 18 December.

“Liberia’s WTO accession is a strong, positive and clear signal of its commitment to engaging with the global economy in the framework of the rules-based trading system. The conclusion of this least-developed country accession is a critical win-win for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Africa and the WTO,” said the Chairperson of Liberia’s accession working party, Joakim Reiter.

One more LDC in the WTO

Therefore, in December, Liberia should become the eighth LDC to join global trade body since its creation in 1995. Although LDCs have been able to use guidelines to facilitate their accession to the WTO since 2002, the members of the organisation decided to further simplify the accession process for the poorest countries during the organisation’s 8th ministerial conference in 2011.

“These improved guidelines provide a simpler framework for the entry of LDCs into the WTO family. It is another example of positive action in favour of the world’s poorest countries,” Pascal Lamy, Director-General at the time, said when the decision was endorsed by the Sub-Committee on LDCs in 2012.

From the 48 countries originally categorised as LDCs on the United Nations list, 34 are now members of the WTO. Twenty countries are still negotiating their accession terms, including seven other LDCs – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, São Tome and Principe, Ethiopia and Sudan. Countries currently negotiating to join the WTO also include Algeria, Belarus, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia and Uzbekistan.

Liberia had submitted its formal request for accession to the WTO in June 2007; this is therefore the end of an eight-and-a-half year accession process. Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, had restated Liberia’s desire to conclude the accession process before the tenth ministerial conference in Nairobi during a meeting with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo on the sidelines of the third United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development in July.

“We believe in the multilateral trading system and the power of trade to contribute to poverty reduction in our country,” said Axel Addy, Minister for Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Liberia, during the WTO meeting on 6 October. “My dream is that the work we have done here will pave the way for a better Liberia for all of us and our children so they too can exercise their potential,” he added.

Towards strengthening the Liberian economy?

The Liberian economy was particularly hit by the Ebola crisis, as the growth previsions for 2015 fell from nearly 6 percent to less than 1 percent due to the epidemic. Today, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared that the disease has been eradicated in Liberia, the economic consequences will likely continue to be felt for a long time. The private sector has suffered greatly from the crisis and will take some time to recover (see BhatnagarBridges Africa, 6 May 2015).

In this context, some observers have pointed out that Liberia’s accession to the WTO could very well make a significant contribution at a time when, more than ever, the country’s economy needs to revitalise commercial trade, which has been greatly impacted. “I warmly welcome this news which promises to bring a timely boost to Liberia’s economic development,” said Roberto Azevêdo. “Helping least-developed countries to trade is a vital part of the WTO’s work and is a priority for me as Director-General,” he added.

 

ICTSD reporting

This article first appeared in  Passerelles, 9 October 2015

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