Bosnia and Herzegovina Near Finish Line in WTO Accession Talks, Officials Say

15 February 2018

Bosnia and Herzegovina is said to be in the penultimate stages of concluding negotiations with WTO members to join the global trade club, following a process that was launched nearly two decades ago. 

The Balkan country began accession talks in July 1999. Last week, the “working party” tasked with shepherding the accession talks at the WTO met at the organisation’s Geneva headquarters, and ultimately endorsed a plan to wrap up the talks in time for this summer, according to a statement released by the agency afterward. 

"If I can share the general impression from the session with more than 50 ambassadors who attended yesterday’s work group, we received the support from all the leading forces,” said Mirko Šarović, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, in comments reported by the Sarajevo Times. 

The official suggested that the finalisation of talks will hinge on resolving some topics bilaterally. When countries apply to join the WTO, they negotiate both multilaterally with the full membership, and any current member can also request bilateral talks on specific issues, with the final concessions then applied to all members.

Among the bilateral market access talks that remain unfinished are discussions with Brazil, Russia, and Ukraine, according to Šarović, though he suggested these could be addressed within a matter of weeks.

Working Party chair Atanas Paparizov, who serves as Bulgaria’s ambassador to the WTO, similarly said last week that the multilateral talks are at “technical maturity.” Another meeting of the accession working party is due in May – an escalation in activity, given that the last meeting prior to the February gathering was held in 2013.

Officials say that the goal would be to have a final accession package forward to the organisation’s General Council when it meets in July.

Other new members in the pipeline?

The last time a new member joined the WTO was in July 2016, when Afghanistan’s membership was formalised. There are currently over 20 accession processes underway, involving either developing or least developed countries (LDCs). The WTO currently has 164 members.

The most recent accession processes to launch are the Comoros, Timor-Leste, and Somalia, which kicked off in 2016. Other processes have also seen renewed momentum, with Iraq, Belarus, and Sudan recommencing talks with WTO members last year.

Joining the global trade club is a long and challenging process, often spanning several years or decades, due to the complicated nature of the bilateral and multilateral negotiations involved, as well as the need to understand the acceding country’s system. The acceding country also needs to bring its own laws and systems up to date with WTO rules.

The countries currently seeking to join the WTO are at varying stages of the accession process. While some have been negotiating their accession since the 1990s, others have applied for membership only as of 2016. In recent years, WTO members and member sub-groups have taken steps aimed at facilitating the accession process. For example, WTO members adopted guidelines at streamlining accessions for least developed countries in 2012, updating a previous set of guidelines on the subject. (See Bridges Weekly, 4 July 2012)

At the December 2017 ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a group of trade ministers set up a “g7+ WTO Accessions Group” with the objective of making it easier for post-conflict and fragile states to join the WTO. (See Bridges Daily Update, 11 December 2017

ICTSD reporting; “BiH to be admitted to the WTO much sooner than expected,” SARAJEVO TIMES, 9 February 2018.

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