Mr Joaquim Amaral, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and Chief Negotiator for WTO Accession, led the Timorese high-level delegation, which included 32 officials in Geneva and others connected virtually from the capital, Dili.
In his opening statement, Mr Amaral said that the extensive collaboration with WTO members and the Secretariat has allowed Timor-Leste to maintain momentum on the road to accession “which we hope is now within reach.” Stressing that WTO accession is a matter of a national strategic priority for his country, Mr Amaral said Timor-Leste cannot remain outside of the global and regional trade institutions and needs to add its voice as early as possible.
“We believe in the potential of trade as a driving force to promote economic growth and development, raise standards of living and to further the goal of stability, peace and good governance,” he said. Illustrating the country's commitment to trade, he announced the Government's decision to join the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and the ITA Expansion Agreement (ITA-II).
“We are eager to prove our readiness for WTO membership and, when necessary, to think creatively. With your support, we are fully determined to make all necessary efforts to finalize our accession process by early next year,” he said.
WTO Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang welcomed the large delegation from Timor-Leste to the meeting and thanked Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, Working Party chair, “for his efforts and leadership in guiding and facilitating this accession, which is moving at a fast pace.”
Passing on special greetings from WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, DDG Zhang recalled that at the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June, ministers reaffirmed the importance of accessions and expressed their commitment to facilitate the conclusion of least developed countries' (LDC) accessions. “The Director-General has placed priority on LDC accessions and has instructed the Secretariat, especially the Accessions Division, to devote their resources to facilitate the accessions of Timor-Leste and Comoros — another LDC which is at an advanced stage.”
Ambassador Macieira provided an overview of the work undertaken since the last meeting on 29 April. He said that Dili has circulated an updated set of inputs for review by the Working Party, including revised market access offers on goods and services, which took account of requests made by members, and legislation.
During MC12, Timor-Leste announced the finalisation of bilateral market access negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and its decision to join the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, the first LDC and acceding government to do so.
The chair said in July he visited Dili, where he met President of the Republic Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and the President of the National Parliament Aniceto Guterres Lopes as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society. He said he was encouraged “by the strong political will expressed at all levels of government and among all political parties to bring the WTO accession process to the finish line.”
The Working Party reviewed the state of play in the bilateral market access negotiations on goods and services and legislative developments. It also examined the draft Report of the Working Party — the document which spells out the agreed specific commitments that the acceding government would undertake as a WTO member. In addition, it considered the next steps in this process.
Commending the good work done by Timor-Leste, members re-confirmed their broad support to Dili's goal for WTO membership, provided that all remaining work is undertaken in the coming months. Members identified and narrowed down the list of outstanding issues on all fronts, including on bilateral market access negotiations, multilateral discussions on rules and remaining legislation.
The chair thanked members “for their support, with their productive engagement on both tracks of the accession process, and technical assistance.” Ambassador Macieira expressed his “sincere belief that having Timor-Leste as a member of the WTO family would bring a real benefit to the trading system, especially adding a valuable voice to the LDC community.”
The chair emphasized that while the Working Party process “is not yet entering the final stage”, it was certainly getting closer. “Now, it is critical to sustain the technical momentum which Timor-Leste and members have built during the last two years, supported by the high-level political commitment by Dili, WTO members and Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,” he said.
The chair's objective is to finalise the remaining issues before the next meeting of the Working Party, so that elements of a draft Accession Package, representing the results of both the multilateral and bilateral negotiations, could start to emerge. While there is still work ahead, the hope of the chair is that the Working Party could conclude its mandate as soon as possible in 2023, followed by a decision by the entire WTO membership in the General Council. This would enable the Government of Timor-Leste to proceed to the procedure of domestic ratification of the Accession Protocol in 2023.
On the bilateral front, the chair invited Timor-Leste and involved members to finalise remaining bilateral market access negotiations and sign agreements as soon as possible, ideally in the next few months. Once all agreements are signed and deposited, the Secretariat shall be mandated to consolidate them into the draft Schedules on Goods and Services, which will be subject to technical verification by signatory members.
On the multilateral front, the chair noted the good progress made and hoped the next Working Party will be able to review all draft commitments and close sections of the draft Report where members have exhausted their questions and comments.
Concerning legislation, Timor-Leste was invited to continue intensively its work in this area, prioritizing legislation identified by members for adoption before the next meeting, and to clearly indicate the timeline for the adoption of legislation before or after accession.
The chair referred specifically to technical assistance in this process, thanking members and development partners for the accession-specific assistance extended to Dili so far. He also noted that Timor-Leste will start the preparation of a post-accession implementation strategy during the last quarter of this year, with the assistance from the WTO Secretariat and the International Trade Centre.
The timing of the next Working Party meeting will depend on the progress made in coming weeks and months. The chair considered it realistic to hold the 5th Working Party meeting in early 2023, as long as all necessary inputs are provided by Timor-Leste.