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World Trade Organization: Accession for Least Developed Countries Being Streamlined

(July 17, 2012) On July 6, 2012, Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) validated a decision of the Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries to streamline and facilitate the WTO accession process for least developed countries (LDCs). According to a WTO statement about this recent action, to date 32 of the 48 LDCs listed by the United Nations are WTO Members, four of them having acceded after the establishment of the WTO in 1995. A fifth LDC, Vanuatu, completed the accession process in 2011, but has not yet completed the domestic ratification process. In addition, ten LDCs are at present engaged in the WTO accession process. (Members Streamline Accession for Poorest Countries, WTO website (July 6, 2012); About LDCs, U.N. Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) website (last visited July 13, 2012).)

The proposed decision, among other matters, sets benchmarks for acceding LDCs' market access negotiations. The decision has five key components: benchmarks for agricultural and industrial goods, broad parameters for market access for services, transparency in accession negotiations, access to special and differential treatment provisions and favorable consideration of requests for additional transition periods, and technical assistance for the accession process. (Id.; WTO Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries, Recommendations by the Sub-Committee on LDCs to the General Council to Further Strengthen, Streamline and Operationalize the 2002 LDC Accession Guidelines, WT/COMTD/LDC/21 (July 6, 2012), DOCUMENTS ONLINE [a WTO database].)

In regard to technical assistance, the proposed decision states that the WTO Secretariat will draw up framework plans for the acceding LDC, “to achieve better coordination and more effective delivery of technical assistance at all stages of the accession process. These plans will be shaped by input from the acceding LDCs themselves, and will be adjusted over time to reflect changes in their needs.” (Members Streamline Accession for Poorest Countries, supra.)

The guidelines developed by the Sub-Committee on LDCs were drawn up at the request of WTO Ministers, in order “to bolster and make more specific” the 2002 guidelines on accession of least-developed countries, which had been adopted to facilitate the accession negotiation process for LDCs. (Members Streamline Accession for Poorest Countries, supra; Accession of Least-Developed Countries: Decision of 10 December 2002, WT/L/508 (Jan. 20, 2003), Documents Online.)

According to WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy,

LDC accessions have a special systemic value because they demonstrate the development dimension of the Organization. Trade opening and legislative reforms provide a tool for faster economic growth and poverty alleviation. However, it is also true that the WTO accession is not an easy process, especially given the limited capacity in many of the world's poorest countries. The agreement reached by WTO Members recognizes this careful balance. 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. (Members Streamline Accession for Poorest Countries, supra.)

The decision will be submitted to the WTO General Council on July 25 and 26 for formal adoption. (Id.)