High-level dialogue reviews accessions of Arab countries, marks Oman’s 20th WTO anniversary

The High-Level Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for Arab Countries on November 8-10, 2020 focused on how past and current accession processes have served as the springboard for reform and economic growth in the region. A special session marked Oman’s 20th anniversary of WTO membership.

The regional workshop, organised by the WTO Secretariat, in partnership with the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), responded to the increasing interest from WTO Arab members and observers to advance ongoing accession processes in the region.

The workshop provided a platform to increase knowledge of the WTO accession process, accession-related rules and the state of play of Arab accessions. It also allowed acceding governments and Article XII members (those that joined the organization after 1995) to share experiences and lessons learned. Participants had the opportunity to discuss the importance of mobilizing technical assistance support in order to facilitate and accelerate ongoing accessions in collaboration with development partners.

In his opening remarks at the event, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff said the accession process has served as an effective external anchor for domestic reforms and a catalyst for economic growth. This is reflected in the last Annual Report on WTO Accessions, which indicates that Article XII members have registered higher growth rates of GDP and trade (exports and imports), as well as increased flows of inward foreign direct investment, in the years following their accession compared to the rest of the world.

DDG Wolff stressed that many Arab acceding governments are fragile and conflict-affected, suffering or having suffered from the social, economic and political consequences of conflicts. They are now facing, like the rest of the world, unprecedented levels of disruption in people’s daily lives and their economic activities due to COVID-19. In this context, trade will have to play an even greater role in supporting recovery of the global economy going forward, he said.

“More, not less, global and regional trade integration is required. Integration into the world economy goes hand in hand with necessary domestic reforms. This is where WTO accession makes particularly valuable contributions. Those engaged in the reform-driven accession process are likely to experience a quicker recovery and greater resilience in the future,” DDG Wolff said. Read his full speech.

The Director General Chairman of the Board of the AMF, Dr Al Hamidy, highlighted the importance of capacity building in the area of international trade. He confirmed the commitment to partner closely with the WTO and the IsDB to assist Arab countries in the accession process. IsDB Director General of the Regional Hub and Center of Excellence of Dubai, Eng. Mohammad Al-Saati, addressed areas of collaboration between the organizations. He stressed the need for increased collaboration to address the pressing socio-economic issues faced by the region today.

The Arab region is one of the areas of the world with the largest number of countries outside the multilateral trading system.  Of the 22 members of the Arab League, nine countries are original WTO members (the Kingdom of Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, the State of Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates) and eight countries are in the process of accession: Algeria, Comoros, Iraq, Lebanese Republic, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic. These countries account for more than one-third of the 23 ongoing accessions. In addition, Palestine has participated in all WTO ministerial conferences as ad hoc observer since 2005. 

The past year has been particularly noteworthy for the Arab region and the multilateral trading system. Jordan celebrated its 20th anniversary of WTO membership in April and Saudi Arabia will celebrate its 15th anniversary on December 11, 2020.

The workshop marked the 20th anniversary of the Accession of the Sultanate of Oman to the WTO. On 9 November 2000, Oman became the 139th member of the WTO. To mark the occasion, Qais bin Mohammed Al-Yousef, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion of the Sultanate of Oman, and Maqbool Ali Sultan, former Minister of Commerce and Industry and Chief Negotiator of Oman’s accession to the WTO, sent video messages, detailing the benefits of WTO accession for Oman and the importance of the multilateral trading system.

An ensuing panel was moderated by Hilda Ali Al-Hinai, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Sultanate of Oman to the WTO. Speakers included: Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, former Chairman of the Working Party of Oman’s Accession to the WTO; Ambassador Peter Allgeier, former Deputy US Trade Representative and Permanent Representative to the WTO (2005-2009); and Mr Arif Hussain, former Director of the WTO Accessions Division (1995–2008).

More on WTO accessions here.