WTO accessions and how Australia stands to benefit

Currently there are a number of countries negotiating to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and more are interested in joining. Economies become WTO Members by undertaking individual accession negotiations in which they agree to reform legislation and administrative processes to bring their trade and industry policies into line with WTO rules and provide their trading partners with improved access to their markets.

Australian exporters stand to benefit considerably from new Membership to the WTO though improved access to markets. Australia engages actively in accession negotiations to ensure that the commercial interests of Australian businesses are protected and advanced.

A number of economies have joined the WTO in recent years. They include Armenia, Cambodia, Cape Verde, China, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia, Nepal, Russia Federation, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Tonga, Ukraine, Vanuatu and Vietnam. In addition, Yemen has completed its accession negotiations and will likely become a fully-fledged WTO Member during 2014. Details of accession commitments are available on the WTO website.

A number of economies are presently negotiating their accession to the WTO, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Serbia, and Tajikistan. Current status of accessions.

Accessions on the WTO website.

Negotiations

Bilateral market access negotiations are a key part of the accession negotiations. These negotiations cover measures such as tariffs, import bans and quotas, and restrictions on trade in services. As well, arrangements are negotiated on measures such as subsidies, customs procedures, publication of trade rules, standards and testing, and intellectual property protection. Improved access arrangements negotiated through the accession process are available to all WTO Members through the operation of the most favoured nation rule. Through these market access negotiations, Australia has negotiated secure access and liberalisation for a very wide range of products of interest to Australian industry.

Australia has also negotiated improved access for exporters of services such as legal, banking, insurance, accountancy, architectural, engineering, computing, telecommunications, construction, distribution, education, environmental and transport, including through deregulation of restrictions on the scope of business operations and conditions of entry.

Australia has also pursued and secured the reform of many different kinds of non-tariff measures that give rise to trade problems and has succeeded in achieving their modification or removal.

Russia’s accession illustrates the benefits that Australian exporters can obtain from WTO accession negotiations. Russia’s WTO accession commitments included:

In relation to services, Russia agreed to guarantee access to a range of sectors including in areas of interest to Australian providers such as for legal, engineering, business, higher education and mining consultancy services.

Agricultural Subsidies

Australia participates actively in joint efforts within the Cairns Group and with other like-minded WTO Members to ensure that new WTO Members will participate meaningfully in the multilateral reform process for trade in agriculture. This involves new WTO Members capping domestic support at recent levels and applying phased reductions from those levels. Australia expects new Members to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. Australia takes a lead role in these negotiations.

Accession of Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

At the end of 2002, the WTO General Council adopted guidelines to accelerate the accession of LDCs to the WTO, as mandated by Ministers at the Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001.

On 26 July 2012, WTO Members agreed to additional guidelines to accelerate the accession of LDCs. In doing so, the Members upheld the mandate defined by Ministers at the 8th WTO Ministerial Conference to "further strengthen, streamline and operationalize the guidelines".

On 4 December 2013, Yemen, an LDC, cleared the final hurdle to become a WTO member. WTO Ministers adopted Yemen’s WTO terms and conditions of entry at the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia. Yemen will have until 2 June 2014 to ratify the deal and will become a fully-fledged WTO member 30 days after it notifies the acceptance of its Protocol of Accession to the WTO Director-General.

Of the 48 LDCs listed by the United Nations, to date 34 are WTO members, including five LDCs which acceded after the establishment of WTO in 1995. These are Cambodia (2004), Nepal (2004), Cape Verde (2008), Samoa (2012),Vanuatu (2012) and Yemen (2013).

Another eight LDCs are in the process of acceding to the WTO: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sao Tome & Principe, and Sudan.

Current status of individual accessions