The goal of the Group is to ensure that the evolving technical assistance (TA) needs of acceding governments are met in a timely, coordinated and tailor-made manner, especially for least developed countries (LDCs), both during accession as well as post-accession.

Participation in the Group will be open to multilateral, regional and bilateral development partners involved in providing technical assistance to acceding governments. The Group will meet both collectively and in a country- or region-specific format. The next meeting will tentatively take place by the end of this year.

Participants in the session emphasized the key role TA plays in WTO accessions and agreed that it is indispensable for the most vulnerable economies, especially LDCs and fragile and conflict-affected states, which account for over half of the governments in the process of acceding to the WTO. While WTO members and development partners have responded positively to the increasing demand for WTO accession-related TA, the need for greater coordination has been repeatedly cited by development partners and acceding governments alike, speakers said.

In this regard, the WTO Secretariat has often been asked to play a coordinating role, whether in the form of compiling TA needs or organising TA Roundtables, often on the margins of accession Working Party meetings. The importance of enhanced coordination was stressed in February 2022 by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her first Report on Accessions to the WTO membership.

In his opening remarks, WTO Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang drew on his experience and stressed the critical importance of integrating TA and training in building the country's trade capacity during the accession and post-accession phases in order to better benefit from WTO membership.

He also stressed the importance of ensuring good coordination in the accession process, an important topic both for TA providers and beneficiaries. “The effectiveness of accession-related technical assistance can be maximised when coordination is institutionalised,” DDG Zhang said. “I should add that such coordination must start at home, in each acceding government, and by each acceding government.”

Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), who co-moderated the session, spoke of the crucial role of the accession process in helping countries undergo structural and trade liberalizing reforms that trigger further economic development.

“It also helps to breathe new life into the WTO — it brings in new voices, new dynamics and new faces,” she said. “Accession can create a lot of benefits that far outlast the process itself. Benefits such as greater security and predictability in trade by providing access to the markets of other WTO members, protection for the private sector against harmful trade actions by other countries, a more business-friendly environment for attracting foreign investment and enhancing productivity, and a greater voice to participate in international trade negotiations and rulemaking.”

The ITC is the first development partner to join the newly established Coordination Group.

Three acceding governments who have greatly benefitted from TA in their accession journey shared their perspectives on the relevance of the Group: Timor-Leste, Uzbekistan and Comoros.

Lurdes Bessa Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the UN in Geneva, said the newly created Coordination Group will be key in improving the efficiency and efficacy of the support given to acceding countries and to new WTO members. Ambassador Bessa reiterated the commitment of Timor-Leste to conclude the accession negotiating process by the end of this year and become a WTO member in 2023, a goal that was mentioned by the Government of Timor-Leste on the 3rd Working Party meeting in April. She also participated in the  successful high-level Chair's visit to Dili in July which included a round table with development partners and donors supporting Timor-Leste's WTO accession.

“However challenges still remain,” Ambassador Bessa said. “We continue to experience a lack of human resources and difficulty in undertaking legal and institutional reforms that have major implications for our accession. I acknowledge that in order to overcome the challenges in advancing our WTO accession our development partners play a critical role in providing technical assistance and capacity building throughout the accession process.”

Ulugbek Lapasov, Permanent Representative of Uzbekistan to the UN in Geneva, also fully supported the launch of the new Group as the appropriate forum for acceding governments and development partners to exchange information on WTO accession-specific needs and assistance on a periodic basis.

“We hope that Inter-Agency Coordination Group would support acceding countries in their hard and long path to WTO membership with coordinated technical assistance from donor countries,” Ambassador Lapasov said. “We believe it is important for us to conduct such coordinative meetings more frequently, in order to better navigate our collaborative work, which will eventually contribute to our accession to the WTO.”

Uzbekistan held a successful 5th Working Party meeting in June and is preparing for the next cycle.

Ahmed Mzé, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Comoros to the UN in Geneva, referred to the close collaboration with the WTO Secretariat on technical assistance. Since 2016 the Secretariat has played a coordinating role with other development partners in the delivery of TA supporting Comoros' accession process.

Mr. Mzé underlined that, for Comoros, coordination was a vital component of technical assistance and that they greatly benefitted from the Secretariat's coordinating role. Comoros' technical assistance and capacity building needs were discussed at a round table with development partners in January 2022. As reiterated at the 7th Working Party meeting in May, Comoros aims at finalizing the work of the Working Party this year, and becoming a WTO Member in 2023.

Finally, Kazakhstan's WTO Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanovashared her country's experience of acceding to the WTO in 2015, where technical assistance and trainings delivered by the WTO Secretariat, as well as ITC and UNCTAD, played a key role. She also touched upon the proposal by the Group of Article XII Members on accession reform that could be taken up as part of the talks on WTO reform launched at the 12th Ministerial Conference held last June.




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