Timeline: 2011 – 2012
Donor: Switzerland (SECO)
Accession to the WTO provides an opportunity for countries to integrate into the world economy and to implement economic and trade reforms, but the process entails huge efforts by acceding countries, in particular, least-developed countries (LDCs). In the last few years, several WTO Members have expressed their concerns about the process and have sent strong messages on the need to make it more development-friendly. The WTO’s modalities to facilitate the accession of LDCs in December 2002 were meant to facilitate and streamline the accession procedures but have hardly been applied. At the December 2011 Ministerial Conference, WTO Members instructed the LDC Sub-Committee to operationalise these Guidelines by July 2012.
The objectives of the project were threefold:
- Make the WTO accession process the most relevant tool for reforms aiming at the sustainable development of LDCs;
- Build capacities of LDCs to better defend their interests;
- Strengthen the WTO by making it a more inclusive institution and more sensitive to development needs and by providing an operational result that shows that the WTO is able to take an effective LDC-related decision despite the difficulties of Doha. The project proposed to support key members to elaborate realistic and operational recommendations aiming at making the accession of LDCs more development-friendly as well as related strategy, and to build capacities of LDCs to better defend their interests.
The project “Making the WTO accession of LDCs more development-oriented” builds upon a previous initiative, led by IDEAS Centre
1. Gathering of support for a decision on the accession of LDCs at MC8
2. Operationalisation of the Ministerial decision of December 2011
The 2011 Ministerial Decision instructed the Sub-Committee on LDCs to prepare recommendations by July 2012 on (i) benchmarks on goods and if possible services; (ii) proposals to “complement […] bilateral market access negotiations with multilateral frameworks”; (iii) recommendations “to assess the needs and to ensure greater coordination in the delivery of technical assistance”.
The project supported the LDC Group through:
- Research/analysis and elaboration/revision of proposals on the key issues;
- Background document and analysis
- Speaking points or speeches supporting the process of advancing the proposals.
3. Consultations with key actors and capacity-building
- LDCs internal consultations and capacity-building (drafting of background documents, analysis, issues papers, etc.; presentations to and discussion with the LDC group; consultation with key members of the Group)
- Consultation with “friends”
- Consultation with “diverging parties”
- Capacity-building for acceding LDCs (organisation of a ministerial meeting of acceding LDCs on the MC8 proposal so as to present the proposal and its significance; awareness raising of acceding LDC representatives on the operationalisation of the MC8 decision; information-sharing and responding to questions)
Friends of Accession
The project “Making the WTO accession of LDCs more development-oriented” builds upon a previous initiative, led by IDEAS Centre, named “The Friends of Accession” also financed by SECO.
This initiative was launched in the aftermath of the Geneva Trade & Development Forum held in Crans-Montana in September 2008. It sought at providing comprehensive and adequate response to the problems identified in the accessions. The proposals had to be concrete and aimed at ensuring both a process supportive of acceding countries’ development and a system that adapted to acceding countries’ needs instead of pushing them to agree on commitments they are unable to fulfil. The initiative sought to identify specific and concrete small steps to allow the issue of accession to be addressed at the WTO. It also aimed at encouraging acceding countries’ coordination to defend their concerns.
The Friends of Accession (FOA) was constituted in 2009. It was composed of eight representatives from developing, emerging and developed countries including Recently Acceded Members acting in their own name.
In 2009, the FOA prepared a proposal to create a platform for acceding countries to voice their concerns. This proposal had been used by the Informal Group of Developing Countries (IGDC) as the basis for their submission of 16 October to the General Council (GC). At the GC meeting, several members welcomed the proposal while others said that the current settings were sufficient (see the summary of the General Council meeting of 20 October 2009). The proposal was thus not taken forward.
In addition, IDEAS Centre organised a meeting of acceding countries to present its initiative and gather their experience and views on the process at the margin of the 2009 WTO Ministerial Conference. Participants also discussed priorities and explored possible next steps to push the issue forward.
At the beginning of 2010, the FOA took stock of the situation and decided to draft a new proposal taking into account feedbacks from members. This proposal was informally circulated to most members over spring. Several FOA and other supporters of the proposal consulted with key members, groupings (LDC Group, African Group, ACP, etc.) and the wider membership on this proposal.
In early 2011, consultations showed that accession could be part of the 8th Ministerial Conference agenda. By summer, it became clear that an agreement on strengthening the accession process could emerge but only if the discussions focused on LDCs accession. The chapter of the Friends of Accession initiative was thus closed but the efforts of IDEAS and several FOA continued on the accession of LDCs’ front through the project described above.
At the 8th Ministerial Conference in December 2011, Members agreed on a decision to “further strengthen, streamline and operationalize the 2002 guidelines”. A few months later, the Sub-Committee on LDCs then provided on 29 June 2012 some comprehensive and well-balanced recommendations for implementing a new decision. IDEAS Centre provided critical comments on the LDC Sub-Committee’s paper. The final decision was then taken on 30 July 2012 and largely followed the aforementioned recommendations.