Seychelles’ WTO Accession Terms Finalised
After nearly two decades of negotiations, Seychelles is set to become the WTO’s 161st member, with the Working Party tasked with the negotiations signing off on the island nation’s accession terms on 17 October.
Seychelles’ accession package will now be forwarded to the General Council, which is the WTO’s highest decision-making body outside the ministerial conference.
The General Council is set to review the terms in December; upon its approval, the accession package will then need to be ratified domestically in Seychelles in order for membership to become official. The deadline for that has been given as 1 June 2015.
“It is particularly timely as the world is marking the International Year of Small Island Developing States. The WTO provides a vital platform for small economies like Seychelles to make their voice heard at the global level,” said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, acknowledging the hard work that was required to complete this accession process.
Pierre Laporte, who serves as Seychelles’ Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment, similarly welcomed WTO membership, calling it “a platform [for his country] to continue to reform its trade regime.”
Seychelles’ membership terms
Seychelles’ accession process started nearly two decades ago, with the WTO Working Party being established in 1995. Negotiations gained momentum in 2008, when the government of the island state started to enact new legislation on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and on the protection of copyright and industrial property. (See Bridges Africa, 18 September 2014)
Subsequently, Seychelles concluded bilateral agreements with nine interested WTO members, namely Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mauritius, Oman, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, and – as the last step on 10 September this year – the United States.
In its accession package, the Indian Ocean archipelago has committed to binding its tariff rates at an average of 9.5 percent – 16.9 percent for agricultural products and 8.3 percent for industrial goods.
Seychelles has also agreed to join the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement and to initiate negotiations to join the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement within 12 months of its accession, among other commitments.
Moreover, the island state has agreed to more disciplines with respect to its state-owned and state-controlled enterprises.
“[WTO membership] will enhance investor confidence and boost our image amongst international stakeholders such as multilateral institutions and rating agencies,” said Laporte in his closing remarks.
Seychelles’ integration into the WTO will move the world’s multilateral trade body an inch closer to universal coverage of economic activity. After Yemen joined last June, Azevêdo affirmed that “97.1 percent of the global economy now falls under the rules-based multilateral trading system.”
Notwithstanding the expanding orbit of the WTO, experts have argued that the organisation’s accession process has become increasingly difficult, particularly for poorer nations, such as the least developed countries (LDC).
While Seychelles is no longer classified as an LDC, having been promoted to the middle income country category, some of those same challenges were reportedly evident in their accession process.
Recently acceded LDC members have complained that they are routinely asked to take on commitments beyond their capacity during the bidding process. These requirements are put forward in bilateral negotiation settings between the acceding country and interested WTO members.
While multilateral negotiations are conducted under the Working Party, any current WTO member can enter into bilateral talks with the aspiring member if they have a specific interest or concession they wish to address. Those, once agreed, must be extended to the rest of the WTO membership.
The conclusion of bilateral deals is a prerequisite for the formal endorsement of the accession by either the WTO General Council or the Ministerial Conference.
After Seychelles’ accession to the multilateral trade body, another likely new member could be Ethiopia, which is a low-income country, though not an LDC. The African country has been in talks to join the WTO since 2003. The liberalisation of Ethiopia’s state-run banking and telecommunications sectors has proven controversial in the bilateral negotiations with existing members.
To enable the next and fourth Working Party meeting, Ethiopia has to submit additional documents including an offer for the services sector. Lesanework Zerfu, who is the head of the multilateral trade relations ministry for Ethiopia, suggested last year that the country would become a WTO member by the end of 2015.
ICTSD reporting; “Seychelles Agrees Terms Of WTO Accession,” GLOBAL TAX NEWS, 21 October 2014; “Seychelles seals WTO entrance after 18 years,” THE CHINA POST, 20 October 2014; “Seychelles seals WTO entry after 18 years,” CHANNEL NEWSASIA, 18 October 2014; “Seychelles has concluded the last outstanding bilateral trade negotiations with the United States”, TRALAC, 17 September 2014; “Seychelles closes in on WTO accession”, SEYCHELLES NATION, 12 September 2014.