Making the WTO Accession Work for Ethiopia: Lessons from Cambodia and Nepal


World Trade Organization (WTO) was established with the main objective of liberalizing multilateral trade, based on the belief that the liberalization of trade brings multiple of benefits to the world population. To this end, the preamble to the Agreement Establishing the WTO (Marrakesh Agreement), provides that “[t]he Parties to this Agreement, recognizing that their relations in the field of trade and economic [endeavor] should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand.” Countries   also join it on the belief that a liberal trade regime will confer these benefits upon those who become members. Moreover, it is noted that the establishment of the WTO in 1995 represented a shift from a multilateral trading system based on diplomacy under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) regime to one that operates under the rule of law. On the other hand, it is argued that the guidelines of accession process under Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement are vague and making the accession process demanding and time consuming. It is also contended that the absence of clear guidelines of accession to the WTO has been allowing current Member states to impose “WTO+” obligations on acceding countries, which is more burdensome especially on least developing countries.

 Nepal and Cambodia are among the poorest countries in the world and they were   the first least developed countries (LDCs) to be acceded to the WTO since it was founded in 1995. Their application for membership was motivated by a desire to ensure predictable market access and become eligible for the special concessions available to LDCs under WTO rules. Moreover, the countries hoped to use accession to the WTO as an incentive for accelerating domestic economic, legal and institutional reforms to create a stable business environment and attract foreign direct investment. However, an analysis of their terms of accession confirms the general trend of exacting significant “WTO+” concessions by the developed members from acceding countries although they were agreed to facilitate and accelerate negotiations with acceding LDCs at the 2001 Launch of the Doha Round of trade negotiation.

 Currently, Ethiopia is also in the process of accession to the WTO. Needless to state, WTO accession is not an end in itself but a means to achieve greater national economic development objectives. On the other hand, the process of accession and terms of commitments have been found so demanding and the potential prospects of being a member of the WTO are mixed with potential challenges. As what is accepted during the bilateral negotiation phase finally  binds an acceding country, it would be wise to carefully and strategically negotiate favorable terms rather than rushing to agree to all onerous terms which compromises the national development objectives instead of bringing the anticipated benefits of membership. To this end, learning from the experiences of other countries, notably LDCs, which have passed through the same process while acceding to the WTO, would be significant.

 This article examines the experiences of Cambodia and Nepal during the accession process, accession commitments, and accession implementation with a view to identifying some lessons that can be helpful to other acceding LDCs, particularly Ethiopia, devise successful strategies and avoid some of the mistakes in an effort to gain maximum benefit from their WTO membership. The article contains three parts. Part one deals with the WTO Accession process so briefly. The second part assesses the experiences of Nepal and Cambodia during their accession process, accession negotiations and accession implementation. The last part produces some lessons that can be relevant to Ethiopia and other LDCs from the experiences of Nepal and Cambodia as well as possible recommendations. The study mainly employs secondary data.

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