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Top trade official urges WTO to ease membership rules

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Trade representatives from some of the world’s poorest countries meet in Phnom Penh on Monday to discuss ways to speed up the process of joining the World Trade Organisation.

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh warns meeting of trade representatives from least-developed nations of ‘systemic’ barriers to admission to trade body.

We think that WTO membership is a very attractive opportunity that can bring positive economic results to all countries....

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh called on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Monday to address “systematic” obstacles to the admission of least-developed countries (LDCs) into the trade body.

Only three countries categorised as least-developed had been admitted to the global organisation since it was launched in 1995, he told officials from the WTO, World Bank, the European Commission and United Nations as they met in Phnom Penh with trade representatives from 12 LDCs to discuss ways of speeding the entry process.

“We think that it is time we faced the problem, and it is also time we re-examined the systematic problem more thoroughly because these [admission] problems can cause negative effects for the development of the future members of the organisation and can also be an obstacle for balance in the organisation,” Cham Prasidh said.

Trade representatives from Cambodia, which was admitted to the WTO in 2004, were joined by counterparts from fellow LDCs Cape Verde and Nepal in giving advice on entry procedures to negotiators from 12 of the least-developed countries in Asia and Africa at the three-day meeting that concludes Wednesday.

The countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Laos, Sudan, Vanuatu, Yemen, Comoros, Liberia, Samoa, and Sao Tome and Principe – are among 29 negotiating to join the WTO.

Cham Prasidh said he expected Laos to be granted full-member status at the seventh WTO Ministerial Conference, which will be held in Geneva over three days from November 30.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon said he expected the accession of the remaining LDCs to be a major issue at the ministerial conference, but that it is critical aspirants gain access to the benefits of trade liberalisation.

“Helping the remaining least-developed countries get accession into the WTO and thus the multi-party trade system will give them the equal and fair trade opportunities they need to reduce poverty and achieve their millennium development goals,” he said.

Keat Chhon added that the world economic crisis had a disproportionate impact on LDCs that were excluded from some of the trade advantages WTO membership conferred.

“We think that WTO membership is a very attractive opportunity that can bring positive economic results to all countries that are proposing to join this organisation,” he said.

The meeting came after developing nations pleaded Friday for progress in the long-languishing Doha round of global trade negotiations as the leaders of 20 major economies met at a G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In a statement issued at the summit, emerging powers such as China and India, along with the WTO’s least-developed nations, said the poor were particularly hurt by the global economic woes.

The conclusion of the Doha round would boost confidence in the world trading system, “prevent the rise of protectionism and provide a much-needed boost to the global economy,” they said.

“It is time now for real leadership and strong action in order to meet the 2010 goal” of a free-trade agreement, they said.

The Doha round of negotiations, named for the Qatari capital where they started in 2001, collapsed last year amid major disagreements between developed and developing nations. But recent talks in New Delhi agreed to the resumption of high-level dialogue aimed at jump-starting negotiations.

Emerging economies are pressing rich nations to curb politically sensitive support for their farmers, which poorer nations contend distorts the global economic system.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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