Yemen’s membership with WTO approved after 13 years of negotiations

National Yemen

Minister Sa’aduddin Bin Taleb

By NY Staff

Immediately after the heads of delegations’ meeting, members formally accepted Yemen as a new WTO member — its “accession” to the WTO. Yemeni Trade and Industry Minister Sa’aduddin Bin Taleb said Yemen would sign the protocol of its official accession to the World Trade Organization in Bali on Wednesday, becoming the organizations’ 160th member.

The 9th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, which opens today Tuesday in Bali, Indonesia, is expected to approve Yemen’s accession to the organization. The meeting will last until December 6. Bin Taleb said Yemen’s accession would provide employment opportunities and assist the country’s economic development, as well as other benefits.

Yemen started its negotiations to join the WTO on November 20, 2004, following its application on April 12, 2000.

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told WTO ministers on 4 December 2013 that he would hold consultations — as urged by a large number of them — in the search for agreement on the set of issues known as the “Bali package”.

He was speaking at the end of an informal meeting of heads of delegations on the second day of the Bali Ministerial Conference, when ministers alsoagreed to accept Yemen as a new member — it will officially join the WTO 30 days after it has ratified the membership deal.

Many of the 55 speakers had urged Mr Azevêdo to work with those members that have serious concerns about the few remaining points that are unresolved, so that the conference can conclude with a deal on trade facilitation (cutting red tape and streamlining customs and port procedures), four agricultural issues and a set of topics on developing and least developed countries.

Several said a deal has to be struck in Bali for the economic and development benefits of the deal itself and for the credibility of the WTO. Many least-developed and developing countries also said that they would lose if a package is not agreed because of benefits they would gain.

Many members argued that leaving the deal to be concluded in Geneva after the conference would not work since the sticking points could not be resolved in Geneva in the weeks and months before the conference – the remaining issues are political and need ministers’ direct input, they said.

Some members reminded Mr Azevêdo that he had said the conference would not be for negotiation. They said negotiations should be fully transparent, with all members involved and no talks in small groups. If that does not produce agreement then the conference should agree on issues for least developed countries, with the other topics negotiated later.

The Republic of Yemen will be the 35th least developed country in the WTO.

“This group makes up a fifth of the whole WTO membership. It is an important constituency — and, as we have seen in recent days, it is one that is increasingly making its voice heard,” said the Director-General.

“Sometimes things change for countries and fortunes change. But the very essence of a country and the history and the civilisation remains. Ours has been trading for the last at least five or six hundred years, in fact, since the spice route,” he told the assembled ministers from the WTO’s current membership.

“We aim to take back that road again and to connect with everybody in the world. … I hope that after a few months, we will have a new Yemen born.”

The Yemeni Parliament will have six months, until 2 June 2014, to ratify itsaccession package. It will then inform the WTO and 30 days later it will officially become a member.

Many said that it is important to reach a deal in Bali to prove that the WTO members are able to achieve a multilaterally negotiated deal. The Bali package will preserve the credibility of the WTO and prepare the ground for a post Bali agenda which would include unresolved issues from the Doha Round, they said. Agreement would renew dynamism amongst the WTO countries and pave the way for further steps towards reducing trade barriers and improving market access, they said.

The ninth WTO ministerial conference must not be remembered as the “poisoned apple that sent Snow White into everlasting sleep”, said one (German Trade Minister Anne Ruth Herkes). “Future generations will judge us by what we achieved here at Bali”.

Many also warned that failure would have bad consequences, including countries pursuing opportunities outside the WTO such as bilateral and regional free trade agreements. Poorer countries could lose by being left out of these agreements, they said. However, some said they are optimistic that a Bali is within reach Least developed countries emphasized that they have always benefited immensely from the multilateral trading system. The negotiated rules in the current package such as duty-free, quota-free access to richer countries’ markets and simplified rules of origin (which makes it easier for their products to qualify for preferential market access), cotton issues and the “services waiver” (allowing least developed countries preferential access to richer countries’ services markets) will bring huge economic benefits, create jobs and growth, they said. The majority of the members supported the draft texts on least developed countries’ issues.

Several ministers also outlined their differing positions on the sticking points in the draft Bali package.