DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL XIANGCHEN ZHANG
Your Excellency, Deputy Minister Hajijev,
Dear Members of the Government Commission on WTO Accession,
Resident UN Coordinator Shlapachenko,
Representatives of development partners,
It is my utmost pleasure to join you all this morning in the beautiful city of Ashgabat, to launch the Work Programme on the Preparation of Turkmenistan's Memorandum on Foreign Trade Regime, and to meet with development partners and donors for a Round Table on Turkmenistan's Accession to the WTO — which is the first in this accession process that formally started with the WTO General Council decision in February.
As Deputy Director-General of the WTO overseeing accessions and technical assistance and training at the WTO Secretariat, a former negotiator involved in China's accession for 15 years and, most recently, as Working Party Chair for the concluded Accession of Lao PDR, WTO accessions have always been dear to me. My experience has confirmed that this demanding process requires extensive domestic coordination and preparation at the levels of trade policy-making, negotiations and setting up WTO-consistent legislative frameworks and efficient implementation mechanisms. These efforts often require tailor-made technical assistance, capacity building and donor support from international institutions and partners, to overcome domestic constraints and prepare for effective participation in the work of the WTO from Day 1 of WTO membership.
As we are meeting today with a two-fold objective, that is to launch the Work Programme on the preparation of the MFTR — the first document of Turkmenistan to be presented to WTO Members in its accession process, and to have a Round Table discussion with partners — which I hope will be the first of many! — I would like to start by passing warm congratulations from the WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the Government of Turkmenistan on its decision to initiate formal accession process. This decision was a historic milestone which marked another important step forward in establishing Turkmenistan's relationship with the WTO, with an ultimate aim to become a WTO Member.
Turkmenistan, which had an observer status to the GATT between 1992 and 1994, has now started to build a new and closer relationship with the multilateral trading system, with the unanimous support by all WTO Members. The start of this process also presents a symbolic “last chapter” in Eurasian Accessions — as all Turkmenistan's neighbours, many of whom are former Soviet Union Republics, are actively engaged with the WTO:
- Kazakhstan, which joined the Organization in November 2015, just co-hosted the very successful 12th WTO Ministerial Conference;
- The Russian Federation is celebrating the 10th year of WTO membership in August this year, while Afghanistan celebrated its 5th year anniversary one year ago;
- Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are actively engaged in their respective accession processes and registering steady progress.
- I would like to commend the Government of Turkmenistan for making this important step which was the result of many years of hard work at the domestic front, starting with the establishment of the Government Commission on WTO Accession by a Presidential Decree in February 2013. Over the years, the Commission has served as an efficient platform and coordinating body for studying the process and implications of WTO accession leading to landmark decisions on the observer status to the WTO (granted in July 2020) and now WTO accession. I was pleased to learn about the long and extensive history of fruitful engagement between the Government of Turkmenistan and the WTO Secretariat in that period, including most recently on the preparation of the MFTR Work Programme which we are launching today. I welcome this pro-active and forward-looking attitude and encourage to sustain it as we progress to the next stage.
Turkmenistan's WTO Accession is launched at a very inspirational moment for the multilateral trading system. WTO Members just re-affirmed their confidence and trust in the WTO by producing an unprecedented package of multilateral outcomes at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in June. They re-affirmed their commitment to facilitating the conclusion of ongoing accessions, including Turkmenistan, and the Director-General is closely involved and ready to intervene as necessary.
With these elements in place, Turkmenistan should take advantage of the existing momentum and to advance its accession process as early as possible, starting by building the necessary technical and documentary foundation for the work of its accession Working Party, and using WTO accession as a tool to support its economic reform agenda, to diversify economy and to enhance its role in the region as a unique transit hub connecting Asia and Europe.
As Turkmenistan embarks on this journey, I believe that all elements are already in place for its successful and concrete engagement with WTO Members — that is high-level political commitment to achieve WTO accession by 2030, backed by intensive technical involvement and supported by technical assistance and capacity-building.
The initial, fact-finding stage will be critical for setting up the tone for the entire accession process which is very technical and complex and may last for several years. The Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime will be the key document setting the factual basis on Turkmenistan's trade regime for consideration by Members and future negotiations. Transparency and timely provision of information, including legislation, will be crucial for the preparation of this document which will eventually evolve into the Report of the Working Party — one of the main elements of the WTO Accession Package of Turkmenistan.
Having said this, I would like to commend Turkmenistan for having established issue-specific working groups focusing on different sections of the Memorandum. They represent best practice, in addition to the establishment of the Government Commission on WTO Accession, to ensure inter-governmental coordination and timely submission of substantive inputs. The WTO Secretariat is ready to work with the Government Commission and Working Groups to assist with the work on the Memorandum, including through training sessions that we are starting today, and in collaboration with other partners, such as the Asian Development Bank.
I would like to conclude by reiterating the WTO Secretariat's full support for Turkmenistan's accession. We are ready to assist the Government until the end of the accession journey. I encourage Turkmenistan to make optimal use of technical assistance provided by WTO and other development partners, in a timely and coordinated manner to achieve greater efficiency. Today's Round Table will provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the available assistance, with the participation of all technical assistance providers and donors, and we look forward to participating in the discussion.
Thank you very much.