Cambodia moves closer to membership by Cancún

A tight schedule has been agreed for Cambodia’s WTO membership negotiation to end in July, allowing the possibility for all the formalities to be completed by the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, 10–14 September 2003.


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At the end of the Cambodian accession working party’s fourth meeting on 16 April 2003, participants agreed on the July target for completing the working party’s report, although a lot of work remains on completing bilateral negotiations and the final multilateral package.

The substantive discussion during the meeting focused on a first version of the working party’s draft report.

A revised draft may be considered at an informal meeting in mid-June, possibly together with draft schedules of commitments for access to Cambodia’s goods and services markets.

Earlier this year, Cambodia had revised its market access offers, further reducing proposed tariff ceilings and adding more service sectors. In return, Cambodia is asking for more technical assistance to help it adjust, although it has agreed not to make this a condition for opening its markets.

In the meantime, several members still have to complete their bilateral negotiations with Cambodia on particular market access issues that concern them, but many said they are close to agreement.

“We should not miss this opportunity. We have all the elements before us,” said chairperson A. Meloni of Italy as he urged members conclude their bilateral talks and to follow the timetable. He praised Cambodia and working party members for their flexibility.

Cambodia applied to join the WTO in late 1994. It appears set to become the first least-developed country to join since the WTO came into being in 1995.


The meeting back to top

This was the first meeting of the Cambodia working party since the WTO General Council agreed at the end of 2002 on guidelines to help least-developed countries negotiate membership more easily — document WT/L/508 (Word format, 3 pages, 34KB) (link opens in a new window).

By considering the first draft of its final report, the working party has moved into the final phase of the negotiations.

Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh reported on the many revised documents and replies to questions that his government supplied in the weeks before the meeting, particularly in March. Some of the information included updates on legislation.

He also outlined his country’s revised offers:

Services:Cambodia is ready to accept specific commitments in over 60 service sectors or sub-sectors, but it feels that responding to a few other requests would be inappropriate.

Goods: Cambodia has revised its offers on goods, making substantial reductions in proposed tariff rates for agricultural and non-agricultural products.

The minister said Cambodia has been committed and flexible, and urged working party members also to be flexible. The latest package is the best possible, he said.

Thanking developed countries for the technical assistance they had provided, he added that more will be needed to help Cambodia adjust.

ASEAN members of the WTO (represented by Malaysia) repeated their strong backing for a swift conclusion to bring fellow-member Cambodia into the WTO. The ASEAN countries urged developed countries not to make tough demands since Cambodia is a least-developed economy. They said they were disappointed that some demands went beyond normal WTO rules, for example the demand for Cambodia to bind its tariffs at current applied rates, or to make market access commitments in maritime services, where no WTO member has made a commitment. Least-developed countries and China echoed the sentiment.

Several countries reported that they were close to agreement on bilateral issues discussed in recent meetings in Geneva, Phnom Penh and elsewhere. The EU said its deal is “all but finalized”. Japan said only technical issues remain. Chinese Taipei and Australia also said they were close to agreement. The US and Rep. of Korea said there were still a number of issues to discuss.

Among the other issues raised in the meeting were: customs valuation, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, intellectual property, textiles, and transparency.


Next back to top

Bilateral meetings will continue. The chairperson asked for comments and proposed revisions of the draft report within the next two weeks. An informal meeting will consider a new draft in June, with the aim of formal agreement in the working party in July.

The working party’s mandate will be completed when the report, membership protocol and schedules of commitments are agreed and forwarded to the General Council or Ministerial Conference for approval. After that, Cambodia would have to ratify the agreement. It would become a member 30 days after informing the WTO that it has ratified.


Background back to top

Working party members: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, China, Djibouti, EU, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Japan, Rep. Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Tanzania, Thailand, United States, Venezuela

Chairperson: A. Meloni (Italy)

Cambodia’s Working Party was established on 21 December 1994. Cambodia submitted a Memorandum on its Foreign Trade Regime in June 1999. Replies to questions concerning the Memorandum were circulated in January 2001, the latest revisions and updates arriving in March 2003. Contacts on market access in goods and services have taken place on the basis of offers in goods and services.

The 14 November 2002 meeting was the working party’s third. It marked an advancement of the accession process because for the first time members focused on texts for inclusion in a draft Working Party Report and, thereby, concentrated on agreeing Cambodia’s terms of entry. The 16 April 2003 meeting was the first to consider the report.