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Liberian WTO Accession Process Begins

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

18 July 2012

New accession guidelines for least-developed countries (LDCs) will benefit Liberia in its ambition to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), it was acknowledged at the first meeting of the Working Party on the nation's accession.

The Working Party Chairman, Swedish Ambassador, Joakim Reiter, said WTO members are aware of the challenges faced by Liberia in acceding to the WTO in the light of its situation as an LDC coming out of a long period of strife. He pledged to work towards accelerating the accession process, and expressed hope that trade cooperation would bring peace and stability to the country.

Liberia’s Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industry Aletha Browne-Cooper said that after a period of civil conflict lasting 14 years, her country of 3.8 million people finally achieved peace in 2003. She noted that the International Monetary Fund had calculated Liberia’s per capita Gross Domestic Product at USD456 for 2011 - the second lowest of 183 countries measured, and pointed to a very high unemployment rate and the limited domestic market. She said Liberia was undergoing economic transformation, and that efforts to accede to the WTO would act as a catalyst for making and locking in difficult but positive reforms.

Many members voiced support at the Working Party meeting for the early accession of Liberia to the WTO, and acknowledged that the new accession guidelines for LDCs, to be adopted by the General Council later this month, would support Liberia in its ambition.

The United States said it is linked to Liberia by history, and pledged maximum effort to assist in the accession process. It said that Liberia’s economic reforms have created an “Open for Business” sign for foreign investors.

The European Union said the accession process will help Liberia modernize its economy, and pledged technical assistance.

Lesotho, on behalf of the African Group, urged members to be considerate and approach with due sensitivity the “unique case” of Liberia. It added that members should not hamper regional integration efforts in Africa. Nigeria said it is optimistic that Liberia can join before its five-year target.

Lastly, India called on members to take a flexible approach to Liberia, adding that this would be a test for the new accession guidelines for LDCs.

At the first meeting of the Working Party, the group conducted a first reading of Liberia's 125-page Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime. Liberia answered 91 questions on its trade regime and proposed accession bid, with the exchange prepared in advance of the meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Chair said the first meeting of the Working Party had been “useful, efficient and business-like”. He urged Liberia to submit its goods and services draft schedules of commitments as soon as possible, and to keep members informed of legislative work related to its accession.

TAGS: tax | business | Liberia | export duty | law | tariffs | anti-dumping | World Trade Organisation (WTO) | trade disputes | import duty | regulation | trade

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