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Nine of the 24 current applicants for WTO accession are least developed countries (LDCs), about 38 percent. Countries with this designation are considered to be the world's poorest and most underdeveloped based on a number of criteria.
As part of broader efforts to address the concerns of developing countries in the context of work on the Doha Round, in December 2002, the WTO General Council formalized guidelines for a streamlined and accelerated accession process for LDCs, the General Council Decision on Accession of Least-Developed Countries (WT/L/508).
In July 2012, the General Council adopted additional recommendations, developed in the Sub-Committee on LDCs, to further strengthen, streamline and operationalize the 2002 LDC Accession Guidelines. These recommendations, foreseen in the Decision adopted at the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference, became an addendum to the 2002 LDC Accession Guidelines. They include provisions under the following pillars: (i) Benchmarks on Goods; (ii) Benchmarks on Services; (iii) Transparency in Accession Negotiations; (iv) Special and Differential Treatment and Transition Periods; and, (v) Technical Assistance. Points (i) and (ii) establish that market access negotiations for the WTO accession of LDCs would be guided by special principles and benchmarks more appropriate to the development level of LDC applicants. The transparency provisions confirm evolving practice in LDC accessions for the use of the good offices by the Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on LDCs, as well as the Chairpersons of the LDCs' Accession Working Parties to assist the conclusion of the accession process of LDCs. Special and differential treatment and technical assistance provisions of the additional recommendations also confirm the need for restraint and the broad use of transitional provisions when constructing market access commitments, Action Plans for transitional implementation of WTO provisions, and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity building in LDC accessions.
Under these guidelines, the accession process becomes a tool for economic development, incorporating the applicant's own development program and laying out an action plan for progressive implementation of WTO rules. The market access schedules and protocols of accession developed under these guidelines reflect the need to address realistically these countries real trade capacity deficiencies and the difficulties they face in achieving normal WTO accession objectives.
Using the guidelines and the addendum, WTO Members pledged to exercise restraint in seeking market access concessions, and to agree to transitional arrangements for implementation of WTO Agreements.
The guidelines provide more automaticity to use of these flexibilities in accession negotiations, but they do not mandate a "one size fits all" template for commitments, thereby preserving the ability of WTO Members to use the process to promote reform and build trade capacity in the applicant economic regimes while simplifying and streamlining the accession process.
The United States and other developed WTO Members have sought to support the transitional goals established in the accession process with LDCs with technical assistance to meet the benchmarks included in the protocol commitments. In this way, the accession process becomes a development tool and an opportunity to mainstream the gains from international trade in their development programs, to build trade capacity, and to provide a better economic environment for investment and growth.
Status of LDC Accessions
WTO Members are committed making WTO accession more accessible to these applicants and constantly monitor the status of the negotiations.
Afghanistan's Working Party on Accession was established in December 2004, and the Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR) was circulated in April 2009. The third Working Party meeting took place in December 2012 and offers have been circulated on goods or services market access.
As an LDC, Afghanistan's accession will be negotiated within the guidelines established in the Decision of the General Council on the Accession of Least Developed Countries. The United States is providing technical assistance through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), including drafting documentation, training, legal drafting, and institution building.
Bhutan's Working Party on Accession was established in February 2001, and the MFTR was circulated two years later. The last WP meeting was held in January 2008 to review additional documentation and conduct market access negotiations for goods and services. Bhutan suspended negotiations after it established its Constitution in July 2008 and a new government was installed.
Comoros submitted its application to accede to the WTO in February 2007. The General Council established a Working Party to examine the application of the Union of the Comoros in October 2007. To date, Comoros has not yet submitted initial documentation to activate the accession negotiations and the Working Party has not met.
Equatorial Guinea submitted its application to accede to the WTO in February 2007. The General Council established a Working Party to examine the application of Equatorial Guinea in February 2008. To date, Equatorial Guinea has not yet submitted initial documentation to activate the accession negotiations and the Working Party has not met.
Ethiopia applied for WTO accession in January 2003. A Working Party was established in February 2003 and Ethiopia initiated negotiations with the submission of its initial documentation in a Memorandum on Foreign Trade Regime in January 2007. Working Party meetings were held in May 2008 and 2011 to review Ethiopia's trade regime. Ethiopia has not yet provided responses to questions submitted by WTO Members at the 2011 meeting, and no further WP meetings have been scheduled. No market access offers have been circulated to date.
The United States provides technical assistance through USAID in the form of a resident advisor for drafting documentation, training, legal drafting, and institution building in the areas of customs, licensing, intellectual property, standards and sanitary measures.
Liberia submitted its application to accede to the WTO in June 2007. The General Council established a Working Party to examine the application of the Republic of Liberia in December 2007. The MFTR was circulated in April 2011, and Liberia is working on responses to comments and questions provided on that document. To date, there have been no market access offers circulated, nor has the Working Party met.
Sao Tomé and Principe submitted its application to accede to the WTO in January 2005. A Working Party to examine the application of Sao Tomé and Principe was established at the General Council meeting in May 2005. To date, Sao Tomé and Principe has not yet submitted initial documentation to activate the accession negotiations, and the Working Party has not met.
Sudan has had two Working Party meetings, the last held March 10, 2004. There has been no activity on Sudan's accession since it tabled revised market access offers for goods and services in October 2006.
Yemen's Working Party on Accession was established in July 2000 and the Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR) was circulated in November 2002. The first Working Party meeting was held two years later. Since that time nine further WP meetings have been held, the last in July September 2012, where remaining issues were largely resolved with only bilateral market access negotiations still to be concluded. Yemen’s accession process is expected to conclude in the first half of 2013.