Lessons for LDCs acceding to the WTO

Analyzing previous accessions to the  World Trade Organization (WTO), Derk Bienen provides lessons for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) when applying for membership to the WTO. First he discusses the duration of the process, concluding that WTO accession does not happen overnight. The process takes, on average, 13.4 years for LDCs and actual negotiating time is 10.0 years. Key negotiation issues, market access and rules and disciplines are also examined. Procedural challenges are listed, together with possible responses to mitigate some of these challenges and existing facilitation measures to support LDCs in overcoming these challenges. In a second part, the terms of accessions are examined; focusing on commitments in trade in goods, trade in services, rules, legal and regulatory changes, and special and different treatment.

Besides the specific lessons on concrete parts of the process and content, several general tips are articulated. Regarding the process it is advised to set out priorities in a comprehensive accession strategy. A second suggestion is to look for windows of opportunities to shorten the accession period. E.g. LDCs that applied shortly after the adoption of the LDC accession guidelines, completed the procedure in a relatively short time period. Lastly, LDCs should use all means available in terms of support and technical assistance made available for acceding countries. The DITS, part of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), can help in defining a strategy to do so.

The author also formulates three general guidelines concerning the terms of accession. Firstly, LDCs have been able to negotiate higher bound tariffs than non-LDCs, while average applied tariffs of acceding LDCs are lower than the target tariffs defined in the LDC accession guidelines. This should be kept in mind when negotiating market access in goods. Secondly, LDCs have made substantial commitments in services sectors. Leaving sectors unbound requires substantial argumentation and partial opening of a sector entails substantial research. Opting for gradual opening of the sector can be an easier solution. The last piece of advice regarding terms of accession relates to timing. Since the implementation of commitments is a very demanding process, LDCs should try to anticipate this through the identification of needed regulatory changes and the development of a legal action plan in the beginning of the process.

Source: Bienen Derk, (2014), ‘What can least developed countries acceding to the World trade organisation learn from other acceded countries?’ Trade and development discussion paper, no. 01/2014, 5 March.