Ethiopia resumes WTO accession negotiations after eight-year pause

Members expressed unanimous support for the resumption of Ethiopia’s WTO membership negotiations at the 4th meeting of the Working Party on the country’s accession, held on 30 January 2020. It was the first meeting of the working party in almost eight years. The Ethiopian delegation said it was ready to work jointly with members to advance and, hopefully, conclude, the accession process by the end of 2021.

The chair of the Working Party, Ambassador Morten Jespersen of Denmark, stressed that the resumption of Ethiopia’s accession process coincides with the internationally recognized peace and integration efforts by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

“As the Prime Minister said in his Nobel speech, while the world is shifting rapidly, it is time for Ethiopia to reap peace dividends with good faith to blossom into prosperity, security and opportunity. I have no doubt that today’s Working Party meeting will contribute to reaching this goal, by becoming a critical turning point in the history of Ethiopia’s accession” to the WTO, Ambassador Jespersen said.

“This meeting convened almost after eight years, has been critical at least on two accounts: first, sending a clear message that the accession of Ethiopia is back; and second, Ethiopia’s engagement is decisively different from the past – it is pro-active and offensive, as the WTO accession is integral to Ethiopia’s ambitious economic reform agenda,” he added.

The chair noted that Ethiopia plays a major role in the Horn of Africa region, which has the highest concentration of WTO accession activities. “Therefore, the resumption of the accession of Ethiopia is expected to give positive impetus to other African accessions, as well as regional integration efforts in the African continent, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area.”

Mr Mamo Mihretu, senior advisor to the Ethiopian Prime Minister and chief trade negotiator, led a high-level government delegation, including Ambassador Misganu Arga Moach, State Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Eyob Tekalign Tolina, State Minister of Finance, Ambassador Zenebe Kebede Korcho, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia in Geneva, as well as other senior government officials and experts from a range of ministries and government agencies.

Mr Mamo underscored the government’s commitment to the accession process and called on members to accelerate negotiations in consideration of Ethiopia’s status as a least developed country (LDC).

“Membership of the WTO is only the logical next step in Ethiopia’s broader efforts to inject rule of law and predictability in its relations with all states around the world,” he said. “Let me emphasize that Ethiopia is now ready for a deal; I am here to seek your full support and commitment to facilitate this process and bring Ethiopia into the WTO within the shortest possible period, ideally not later than the end of 2021.”

The full statement of Mr Mamo is available here.

WTO members welcomed the resumption of the accession process and supported Ethiopia’s domestic reform efforts through this process. In addition, members pledged to provide technical assistance to Ethiopia to expedite its accession.

Bilateral market access negotiations

The Ethiopian delegation reported on its bilateral market access meetings in Geneva with six WTO members. Ethiopia provided a revised goods offer which envisages all tariff lines to be bound on the day of accession. Also, an initial services offer was submitted offering market access commitments in 10 services sectors. The chair urged members to work constructively in view of Ethiopia’s wish to speed up negotiations.

Foreign trade regime and WTO rules

Members reviewed the foreign trade regime of Ethiopia on the basis of an updated version of the Factual Summary of the Points Raised, which was issued in December 2019 ahead of the Working Party meeting.

Members provided comments and questions on a range of issues pertaining to the country’s trade and trade-related developments. The discussion helped to identify the list of issues which require further attention.

Legislative developments

The Ethiopian delegation updated members on legislative developments and reaffirmed its commitment to bring its trade regime into conformity with WTO rules. They assured WTO members that a fair and predictable legal system that encourages trade and investment is among the priorities of the government and the parliament in the ongoing legislative reform.

To that effect a special Advisory Council composed mostly of independent professionals from the private sector, academia and civil society has been established to provide for an innovative and participatory reform process that ensures its legislation is  in full conformity with WTO requirements. 

Next steps

On the bilateral front, Ethiopia was invited to intensify bilateral market access negotiations with interested members; on the multilateral front, members were invited to submit comments and questions in writing by 28 February in order for the WTO Secretariat to prepare an “Elements of a draft Working Party Report”.

Concerning legislation, the chair asked the delegation of Ethiopia to revise its Legislative Action Plan and to continue submitting copies of WTO-related legislation, in order that members to have an up-to-date picture of the ongoing legislative reforms in Ethiopia.

Given Ethiopia’s strong drive to advance the accession process, the chair said members could aim at holding the 5th meeting of the Working Party after the northern summer break.

Background

Previous Working Party meeting: 27 March 2012 (3rd meeting)
Working Party Chairperson: Mr. Morten Jespersen (Denmark)
Working Party established: 10 February 2003

The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

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