The meeting took place in hybrid form, with the delegation of Timor-Leste speaking from the capital, Dili, and the Working Party chair, Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, from WTO headquarters. Mr Joaquim Amaral, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and WTO chief negotiator, led the high-level delegation composed of 34 government officials in Dili as well as the Timorese representatives in Geneva.
Mr Amaral said that the WTO accession process is a cornerstone for achieving by 2030 a dynamic and open trading economy that is integrated into regional and global value chains, provides new opportunities for employment and transfer of technology, and helps drive growth of exports and investments. He indicated that Timor-Leste is also committed to joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is working to ensure that these two accession processes can advance expeditiously while continuing to push for necessary domestic reforms.
“Timor-Leste prioritizes WTO membership, as it would help to leverage the on-going improvements in its infrastructure, human capital and administrative capacity, and to accelerate growth and economic diversification. It would also set a stepping-stone for Timor-Leste's accession to ASEAN. Timor-Leste is fully committed to abide by the principles, objectives and rules of the WTO, as a least-developed country, and to implement structural, legislative and policy reforms needed to comply with its future WTO commitments,” said Timor-Leste´s chief negotiator. His statement is available here.
The Working Party chair noted the dedicated work and the high level of technical engagement from Dili over the past few months to advance the accession process, despite the unprecedented challenges and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Being part of the global rules-based trading system has become more urgent and more important than ever, especially for a least developed country such as Timor-Leste. I am confident that today's meeting will mark a critical first step in the negotiation journey of Timor-Leste's integration into the global economy,” said Ambassador Macieira.
WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff noted: “It is an important day for Timor-Leste as well as for the WTO. The WTO gained strength from the accessions of new countries coming in with their commitments to the world trading system. This meeting starts the official beginning of the accession journey for Timor-Leste (...). As one of the newest countries in the international community, we welcome Dili's efforts to use the WTO accession as part of its state-building. I was deeply moved by the words of former President of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmão who stressed the use of trade and economic integration to begin and maintain peace.”
Members welcomed Timor-Leste's engagement and readiness to advance domestic reform efforts through the accession process, and asked Dili to provide additional negotiating inputs. The working party reviewed the foreign trade regime of Timor-Leste on the basis of the Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR) and other inputs provided by the Timorese authorities.
Members proceeded section-by-section through the MFTR and provided questions and comments on a wide range of issues. They also considered the Legislative Action Plan (LAP) of Timor-Leste.
The chair invited members to submit their written questions and comments by 30 October. He asked the WTO Secretariat to prepare a factual summary of points raised, which would serve as the basis for further examination of Timor-Leste's foreign trade regime by the working party.
Timor-Leste was requested to submit additional inputs, such as its agriculture supporting tables and accession checklists and questionnaires. Further, Timor-Leste was requested to provide its initial offers on goods and services to allow for bilateral engagement with members on market access. On the legislative front, Timor-Leste was urged to update its LAP and to continue submitting translations of draft and adopted WTO-related legislation to enable members to track legislative reforms.
The date of the second meeting of the Working Party was left open. The chair said that, given Timor-Leste's strong desire to advance its accession process, the 2nd meeting of the working party could take place in the first quarter of 2021. The timing of the meeting will be subject to the submission of the required inputs.
Timor-Leste is a least-developed island country at the southern extreme of the Malay Archipelago, with a population of approximately 1,270,000. After gaining independence in 2002, the Government of Timor-Leste submitted its application for accession to the WTO in November 2016. The Working Party was established in December 2016. In June 2017, the country submitted its MFTR.
More information this accession is available here.