Supporting countries in the WTO accession process and beyond

14 June 2016
ITC News
The challenge

Least developed countries (LDCs) seek to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) to integrate into the global economy and spur trade-led growth, but they often lack the negotiating skills and experience for the complex accession process. They also face challenges with incorporating private sector views into their negotiating stances and attendant policy reforms, a critical step for leveraging the accession process to create a growth-friendly business environment, especially for small and mediuem-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even after accession, governments need the institutional capacity to implement WTO obligations; businesses, meanwhile, need to understand the opportunities presented by the multilateral trading system in order to take advantage of them.

Liberia faced the additional challenge of having to align its WTO commitments with its simultaneous integration to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In Afghanistan, a key challenge was institutional weakness in both the public and private sectors.

The response

ITC works to assist the private and public sectors in LDCs, most recently Afghanistan and Liberia, to better understand the risks and opportunities associated with the WTO accession process, and to develop negotiating positions that balance private sector and government policy objectives.

A key component of this assistance has been establishing mechanisms for dialogue between public and private sector stakeholders so each can understand the other’s concerns. ITC capacity building facilitates institutionalized platforms for evidence-based debate and experience sharing on identified topics.

Leading up to accession, the mechanism is used to build consensus among private and public stakeholders on WTO-related policy reforms. Post-accession, it pivots towards implementing trade policy reforms that are coherent with business needs and compliant with the country’s new WTO commitments.

The results

After multi-year accession processes, Afghanistan and Liberia formally joined the WTO in December 2015, during its 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

In Liberia, ITC had previously assisted the government in preparing a National Trade Policy, a wholesale revamp of the country’s trade-related rules and regulations aimed at fostering coherence among Liberia’s WTO accession obligations, regional commitments, and policies to spur growth in key economic sectors. It had also helped Liberia develop a National Export Strategy, which identified highpotential sectors for ramping up trade-driven value addition and job creation as well as bottlenecks holding back increased production and exports. During Liberia’s WTO accession negotiations, the two documents served as a basis for Liberia’s market access offers for goods and services; ITC helped Liberian officials draft the formal offers. ITC also supported Liberian negotiators’ participation in different WTO fora, including the Nairobi ministerial and the annual Public Forum in Geneva.

When signing Liberia’s accession protocol in Nairobi, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said her country’s WTO commitments and associated reforms ‘put in place policies and procedures to ensure a more transparent and predictable business climate for equitable growth.’

In Afghanistan, the dialogue mechanism helped the public and private sectors build relationships with their Indian counterparts. In addition to understanding how Indian institutions and businesses operated and sought to use WTO commitments to their advantage, the Afghan institutions were able to seek bilateral help to strengthen areas of weakness.

The future

Building on past work to support Tajikistan (see box) in making the most of its WTO membership, ITC has developed post-accession technical assistance strategies for Afghanistan and Liberia. The overarching aim is to create a WTO-compliant and growth-conducive business environment, especially for SMEs.

ITC will assist Liberia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) with (i) ensuring the private sector understands the implications of Liberia’s WTO commitments; (ii) developing a WTO-consistent strategy to implement Liberia’s National Trade Policy; and (iii) setting up a trade facilitation ‘single window’, a mainly electronic entry point where traders can exchange trade information with border agencies.

Post-accession support for Afghanistan will focus on: (i) developing a National Export Strategy; (ii) implementing the WTO trade facilitation agreement and assisting SMEs to manage cross-border procedures; and (iii) using publicprivate consultations to enhance the capacity of institutions and key stakeholders to implement WTO commitments. These priorities align with those identified by Humayoon Rasaw, Afghanistan’s Minister of Commerce and Industries, who has appealed for donor assistance to help overcome his country’s lack of ‘institutions or institutional capacity to properly and effectively enforce and administer’ new WTOcompliant laws. He has also pointed to private sector weaknesses, notably the capacity of Afghan businesses to comply with the demands of WTO rules on health and safety standards and product regulations.