The report — “Accessions of Least-developed Countries to the WTO — Challenges and Opportunities” — summarizes the commitments undertaken by the nine LDCs who have acceded to the WTO under Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement. It also looks into the challenges and opportunities for LDCs regarding WTO membership, including the importance of participating in WTO activities. The paper also briefly examines the economic performance of recently acceded LDC members to see how they have fared since joining the WTO.
The authors of the study do not assert direct causality between WTO membership and economic and policy outcomes, as many diverse influences are at work. The paper includes some suggestions and recommendations for those LDCs who are currently negotiating their WTO accessions or contemplating doing so.
“This report is not only timely. It is an illustration of our commitment to support LDC accessions through capacity-building and technical assistance. Nine LDCs joined the WTO after successfully concluding accession negotiations and eight more are still in the accession process. Despite the economic fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressing challenges, LDCs have demonstrated remarkable capacity to remain focused to achieve their accession goals,” said WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
“Timor-Leste and Comoros, in particular, have maintained their accession momentum and are now advancing negotiations towards conclusion at full speed. The Working Party on the accession of Timor-Leste held its third meeting on 29 April 2022, while that of Comoros had its seventh meeting on 19 May 2022. It is our hope that this study, which provides best practices and lessons learned from the nine LDC accessions, concluded to date, can help equip future LDC members to realise membership benefits,” she added.
The paper was prepared in connection with the 10th China Round Table, held virtually on 18-20 January 2022. China's Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and Accessions Programme (the China Programme) was established on 14 July 2011 with the aim of strengthening the participation of LDCs in the WTO and assisting them in their WTO accession processes.
The Programme has supported LDCs through five main pillars: China WTO Accessions Internship Programme; Annual China Round Tables on WTO Accessions; increasing the participation of LDCs in WTO meetings; South-South Dialogue on LDCs in WTO meetings; and follow-up workshops to LDCs' Trade Policy Reviews.
The paper also provides background on the origins of the LDC Group at the United Nations (UN), which responded to the conviction about the existence of a group of low-income countries, among the poorest in the world, that would benefit from special attention and tailor-made treatment to manage their multifaceted development problems.
On 18 November 1971, UN Resolution 2768 (XXVI) — “Identification of the least developed among developing countries” — formally established the first list of LDCs, comprising 25 countries. Today, the list includes 46 countries, 20 of which were on the original 1971 list.
The Resolution recognized the significant influence that international trade has on the growth and development prospects of developing countries, and it was not long after the 1971 UN decision that the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) made room for a new approach to the world's poorest trading nations.
Of the 46 LDCs, 35 are members of the WTO. The LDC Group represents one-fifth of the total membership of the WTO. Nine countries have joined the WTO as LDCs in the past 15 years — Nepal, Cambodia, Cabo Verde, Samoa, Vanuatu, Lao PDR, Yemen, Liberia and Afghanistan — and eight more are currently engaged in the accession process: Bhutan, the Comoros, Ethiopia, Sao Tomé & Principe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Timor-Leste.
In its concluding observations, the paper notes that the increased LDC involvement contributes to the growing universality of the WTO and brings the stated aims of the WTO closer to realization, including those of cutting living costs and raising living standards, helping countries to develop, giving the weaker a stronger voice, and contributing to peace and stability.
Finally, the paper makes reference to graduating from LDC status, which should be seen as an important achievement and not as a threat or loss of special privileges. It also highlights that formidable challenges remain as LDCs are yet to fully reap the full benefits of the WTO system.
This will take time and require continued support from the community of nations and international institutions, particularly with technical assistance and capacity building. But ultimately, the gains will be shared by all, the study concludes.