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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - WTO membership likely by September, says US

WTO membership likely by September, says US

A senior US trade official has said Cambodia will likely accede to membership of

the World Trade Organization (WTO) by September. Jon Huntsman, the deputy US trade

representative, told journalists on March 12 that bilateral negotiations had gone

well, but said more work remained.

Huntsman said there was a "window of opportunity in the next couple of months"

to finalize bilateral negotiations regarding market access in areas such as agriculture

and industrial goods and services.

"I am optimistic that Cambodia is on the right path," he said. "There

is every reason to think that we will be successful."

Huntsman would not specify what specific bilateral requests the US had made, saying

only that they involved market access. But he did say that success in joining the

WTO was "very much going to be tied to the strength of political institutions,

including issues of good governance".

He said other important factors are political stability, a secure environment that

promotes economic investment, and an open and transparent market.

Huntsman said that WTO membership was a "seal of approval as seen by investors,"

but also stressed the importance of implementation of laws and measures following

a successful bid.

And he denied the US was imposing WTO related conditions on other countries but not

complying itself. "We are absolutely consistent with WTO rules," he said.

That is not the opinion of all observers. Oxfam's Trade Report, released in April

2002, states that the US and European Union have eliminated only one-quarter of the

textiles and clothing import quota restrictions they are committed to remove under

the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing.

Mia Hyun, senior policy advisor on trade at Oxfam America, said trade barriers in

rich countries were especially damaging to developing countries such as Cambodia,

because they were concentrated on the goods that they produce. These were labor intensive

agricultural and manufactured goods, in particular textiles and garments.

"These types of policies make it very difficult for Cambodia to reduce poverty

through trade," Hyun said. "A recent report by the Progressive Policy Institute

in Washington highlighted the relatively high US tariffs on Cambodian goods - it

was 15.8 percent in 2001. This was higher than the rate being imposed [by the US]

on all but three countries."

Garment manufacturing is Cambodia's main export industry, employing around 200,000

people. However the US garment quota regime, which ensures the country special privileges

to export to the US market, comes to an end in December 2004.

"What will be important in Cambodia is to ensure they will become a member before

the end of the quota regime," Huntsman said.

Cambodia will try to accede to the international trade body at the Fifth WTO Ministerial

Conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September. If successful, it will become the first

nation in the least developed country (LDC) category to join the WTO since it began

in 1995. Huntsman said if Cambodia was not successful in Mexico, the "wait might

be substantial".

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