Afghanistan Bid for WTO Membership Set for Approval at Nairobi Ministerial

19 November 2015

Afghanistan has now cleared one of the final hurdles for WTO membership, with officials confirming last week that negotiations in the Working Party tasked with that process are now completed.

The expected entry of Afghanistan to the global trade club marks the ninth least developed country (LDC) to be invited to join the organisation since it was founded in 1995. The talks have been underway for over a decade, with Kabul tabling its request to join the WTO in November 2004.

Joining the 161-member body is expected to provide the country with “new trading opportunities and boost economic development,” according to WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, who commended members for “promoting the integration of another LDC” into the multilateral trading system.

Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, similarly welcomed the news, saying that WTO membership could pave the way for the country’s transition into “an effective and functioning market economy that attracts investment, creates jobs and improves the welfare of the people.”

Along with negotiating with WTO members at the multilateral level in the Working Party process, any country interested in joining the global trade club must also hold bilateral negotiations with any interested current member, with those concessions then extended to the entire WTO. Afghanistan concluded the last of those bilateral talks in February 2014.

Acceding LDCs

Afghanistan’s Working Party Chairperson, Roderick van Schreven of the Netherlands, remarked last week that the “conclusion of this least developed country’s accession is a critical win-win for LDCs and the WTO,” as Afghanistan will be the second LDC to receive approval from the organisation’s membership this year, following the approval of Liberia’s accession package in October. (See Bridges Africa, 12 October 2015)

Six more LDCs, namely Bhutan, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Sao Tomé and Principe, and Sudan, are all negotiating to accede to the organisation, though those processes saw limited to no movement last year, according to the WTO Annual Accession Report for 2014.

To date, 34 of the 48 countries classified by the UN as least developed countries are members of the global trade body, with Afghanistan and Liberia set to bring that number up to 36.

While becoming a member of the WTO often takes several years, given the complexity of the negotiations, the particular difficulties that least developed countries face in the process prompted the organisation’s members to adopt in 2012 revised guidelines aimed at facilitating such accessions, including benchmarks in the area of goods. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 July 2012)

Both, Afghanistan and Liberia’s accession packages are now set to be presented to trade ministers for formal adoption during the WTO’s Tenth Ministerial Conference, taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, this December. By that point, the accession of Kazakhstan will be in force, bringing the organisation’s membership to 162.

Once Afghanistan’s accession package is approved by WTO members at the ministerial meet, Kabul will then need to formally accept the terms domestically by ratifying it in its legislature.

Thirty days after submitting its acceptance to the WTO, Afghanistan will officially become a member.

ICTSD reporting.

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