President Ramos-Horta opened the high-level conference by stressing that both WTO and ASEAN memberships are national strategic priorities which enjoy solid national consensus and commitment. He expressed the hope that the WTO accession process could be completed in 2023.
“In this increasingly complex world of interconnectedness and interdependency, of challenges, risks and of opportunities, multilateralism, regional integration and cooperation and a rules-based world order are sine qua non conditions for peace, security and prosperity for all,” he said. “WTO and ASEAN memberships are part and parcel of our common commitment to a rules-based integration,” he added. His full statement is available here.
The event was also attended by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and Chief Negotiator for WTO Accession Joaquim Amaral, Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno in charge of Timor-Leste's accession to ASEAN, as well as all members of the Inter-ministerial Commissions responsible for WTO and ASEAN accessions.
Minister Amaral highlighted the importance of multilateral and regional trade integration for Timor-Leste. “Membership in the ASEAN and the WTO are a matter of state. We consider both processes to be intertwined and essential for the success of our vision of Timor-Leste as a modern and diversified economy with high-quality infrastructures and a growing, healthy, and well-educated middle class by 2030,” he said. His speech is available here.
The WTO accessions team was led by the chairperson of the Working Party on the Accession of Timor-Leste, Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, who commended the progress made by the Timorese Government in its WTO accession process.
“Despite challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the technical and capacity constraints caused by its least-developed country status, Timor-Leste has held three Working Party meetings in just 18 months and has moved from the initial fact-finding discussions with WTO members on its foreign trade regime to negotiating the entirety of the parameters of its future accession package,” he said.
Ambassador Macieira assessed that Timor-Leste's accession was well on track for conclusion in 2023, provided that all remaining elements were agreed with members. His full speech is available here.
Maika Oshikawa, Director of the WTO Accessions Division, expressed appreciation for Timor-Leste's commitment, as well as the resilience and flexibility of the Government throughout the process despite many serious challenges. On the interrelation between the ASEAN and WTO membership, she noted that “the two accessions are complementary and have synergies, in terms of process and the level of commitments which Timor-Leste is expected to make, whether on rules and legislation, or market access, which should support Dili's economic reform and integration efforts in a coherent manner.”
The conference also heard from two ASEAN members — Cambodia and Lao PDR which acceded to the WTO in 2004, and 2013, respectively — to share lessons learned and best practices in having pursued both membership goals.
Cambodia's Secretary of State of the Ministry of Commerce Pich Rithi and Lao PDR's Director General for Foreign Trade Policy of the Ministry of Commerce Saysana Sayakone joined the session virtually to share national experiences which could guide Timor-Leste in its accession endeavours.
Both noted the synergies in the accession negotiations and post-accession, especially on the need for internal coordination and capacity building, while emphasizing that political will was the most critical factor in driving economic reforms through global and regional integration.
The Working Party on the Accession of Timor-Leste was established in December 2016. The Working Party had three meetings, from October 2020 to April 2022, registering substantive progress in this accession. On the regional level, Timor-Leste applied for ASEAN membership in March 2011.
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