> Director-General’s letter to journalists
> The Doha Development Agenda
> Market access, non-agricultural products
> Intellectual property (TRIPS)
> Trade facilitation
> Rules: ad, scm including fisheries subsidies
> Rules: regional agreements
> Dispute settlement
> Trade and environment
> Small economies
> Trade, debt and finance
> Trade and technology transfer
> Technical cooperation
> Least-developed countries
> Special and differential treatment
> Implementation issues
> Electronic commerce
> Members and accessions
> Statistics, Textiles and Clothing
> Statistics, Facts and Figures
> Jargon buster, Country groupings
> Jargon buster, An informal guide to ‘WTOspeak’
How to join the WTO: the accession process back to top
The process starts with the applying country submitting
a formal written request to accede (under Article 12 of the WTO Agreement).
The request is considered by the General Council, which sets up a working party
to examine the application — each application has a separate working
The working party eventually makes recommendations to the General Council,
including a “protocol of accession” at the end of the negotiations. The working
party is open to all WTO members.
Broadly speaking the application goes through four
- First, “tell us about yourself”. The government applying
for membership has to describe all aspects of its trade and economic policies
that have a bearing on WTO agreements. This is submitted to working party members
in a memorandum covering all aspects of its trade and legal regime, that forms
the basis of the working party’s fact-finding exercise.
- Second, “work out
with us individually what you have to offer”. When the working party has
made sufficient progress on principles and policies, parallel bilateral talks
between the prospective new member and individual countries. They are bilateral
because different countries have different trading interests. These talks
cover tariff rates and specific market access commitments, and other policies
goods and services. The new member’s commitments are to apply equally
to all WTO members under normal non-discrimination rules, even though
bilaterally. In other words, the talks determine the benefits (in the
form of export opportunities and guarantees) other WTO members can expect
the new member joins.
- Third, “let’s draft membership terms”. This is the
substantive part of the multilateral membership negotiations. Once the
working party has
completed its examination of the applicant’s trade regime, and the parallel
bilateral market access negotiations are complete, the working party finalizes
the terms of accession. These consist of commitments to observe WTO rules
and disciplines as soon as the new member joins, or in some cases with
transitional periods. They appear in a draft working party report, a draft
(“protocol of accession”) and lists (“schedules”) of the member-to-be’s
- Finally, “the
decision”. The final package, consisting of the report, protocol and lists
of commitments, is presented to the WTO General Council or the Ministerial
Conference. If a two-thirds majority of WTO members vote in favour, the
applicant is free to sign the protocol and to accede to the organization.
In many cases,
the country’s own parliament or legislature has to ratify the agreement
before membership is complete. The applicant becomes a member of the
WTO 30 days
after it has notified the WTO Secretariat that it has completed ratification.
The accession process can vary in length and can
take several years to complete. The shortest accession process has overall
taken 2 years 10 months, in the case of the Kyrgyz Republic, and the longest
15 years and 5 months, in the case of China. Much depends on the speed with
which the applicant government is able to adjust its trade and legal regime
to the requirements of the WTO’s rules and disciplines.
Least-developed countries back to top
On 10 December 2002, the General Council agreed a new
range of measures enabling the world’s poorest countries, the least-developed
countries (LDCs), to join more quickly and easily.
governments agreed to be restrained in seeking concessions and commitments
on goods and services from least-developed countries negotiating membership.
They agreed to apply “special and differential treatment” to those countries
as soon as they become members, and to grant transitional periods in specific
WTO agreements, taking into account individual development, financial and
trade needs. The purpose is to enable them to implement and comply with the
rules. In the General Council decision, WTO members also agreed to provide
technical assistance. Since the measures were agreed, two least-developed
countries successfully concluded their negotiations to become members : Nepal
The new members back to top
Since the WTO was established on 1 January 1995,
21 new members have joined the WTO through working party negotiations. These
are : Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, China, Cambodia, Croatia, Ecuador, Estonia,
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania,
Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Oman, Panama, Saint Kitts and
Nevis, and Chinese Taipei. Saudi Arabia becomes a member as of 11 December 2005.
The applicants back to top
With 30 governments currently negotiating their terms
of membership, accession will remain a major challenge for WTO members in
the years ahead. Their applications are currently being considered by WTO
accession working parties. An exception is Vanuatu, whose membership awaits
a final decision by its government and then by the General Council. Each
of these applicant governments is an observer in the WTO.
Republic of Serbia
Samoa Sao Tome and Principe
Some current accessions negotiations back to top
Of the countries applying to join the WTO, these
have been more active in their negotiations in the last few months, are close
to an agreement, or have aroused more public interest:
Algeria’s working party was established on 17 June
1987 and met for the first time in April 1998. Topics under discussion in
the working party include: agriculture, the customs system, state trading,
transparency and legal reform, and intellectual property. Algeria has made
offers on market access in goods and services and the discussion on terms
of entry is underway. The 9th meeting of the working party took place in
Russia’s working party was established on 16 June
1993. Bilateral market-access negotiations on goods and services have started.
In the working party, topics under discussion include: agriculture, the customs
system (and customs union and other trade arrangements with CIS states),
excise taxation and national treatment, import licensing, industrial subsidies,
national treatment, sanitary/phytosanitary measures and technical barriers
to trade, trade-related investment measures, intellectual property, and services.
Discussion is continuing on a third draft of the working party’s report.
is the biggest economy outside the WTO and the accession negotiations are
intense and detailed. One of the most important aspects of this negotiation
is a wide ranging programme of legislative reforms, which the Russian Parliament
plans to complete this year. This set of new or amended laws includes a
Customs Code, intellectual property protection, regulation of foreign trade
foreign currency regulations and many more. The aim is to create a modern,
market oriented and predictable legal environment in tune with WTO agreements
and principles and Russia’s plans for economic reform.
The 29th meeting
of the working party was held on October 2005, with additional bilateral
held throughout the year. Many of these bilateral meetings involve Russia
negotiating market access agreements for goods and services with its
trading partners. Other “plurilateral” meetings have focused on dealing in more
detail with some contentious issues in the negotiation such as agriculture,
measures and technical barriers to trade, intellectual property, and services.
The working party is also drafting the report of the negotiations and the
protocol of accession.
Ukraine’s working party was established on 17 December
1994. Topics under discussion include: agriculture, the customs system, excise
and value added tax, import licensing and other non-tariff measures, industrial
subsidies, national treatment, services, state trading enterprises, transparency
and legal reform, and intellectual property. Bilateral market-access negotiations
are continuing on the basis of revised offers in goods and services. Work
is underway on the draft report of the working party which specifies members'
concerns and Ukraine’s commitments. The last meeting was in mid-November
Viet Nam’s working party was established on 31 January
1995. The draft Working Party Report (a detailed document summarizing discussions
in the Working Party) was circulated in November 2004 and a revision was
discussed when the working party met on 15 September 2005. This was its tenth
meeting and the chairperson said he expected that by the next meeting Vietnam
would have concluded all its remaining bilateral market-access negotiations
in goods and services. However, “it is clear that some more work is needed
on the various sections of the report,” he also said.
> List of Members and