Chaired by Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, the Working Party welcomed a high-level delegation from Dili led by Mr Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, Vice Prime-Minister, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs, and Minister of Tourism and Environment, who was recently appointed as WTO chief negotiator. The Timorese delegation also included Mr Miguel Marques Gonçalves Manetelu, Minister of Transport and Communications, and Mr Filipus Nino Pereira, Minister of Trade and Industry.
Ambassador Macieira noted that the sixth Working Party took place exactly three years after its first meeting in October 2020. “I have been impressed by the speed of the progress which we have been able to make in this Working Party. I am told by the Secretariat this is the fastest moving dossier among the 24 ongoing accessions. This is thanks to the hard work and determination of the Timorese negotiating team and the support and cooperation by all members,” he said.
“I strongly believe that Timor-Leste is now well on track for WTO membership, with most of the key elements in the accession negotiations already resolved and agreed,” said Ambassador Macieira.
The Chair also stressed the direct involvement and facilitation at the political level of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala since the negotiations entered a critical phase during the last few months. Last week, she welcomed President José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste to the WTO, offering her support and advice for the finalization of the accession process by MC13, and re-confirming the WTO Secretariat's readiness to work with Dili to prepare for post-accession.
Timor-Leste's chief negotiator said a tremendous effort has been made to adapt and make progress, constructively and creatively, to keep Timor-Leste on a fast-accession track. “I hope you will all agree with me that Timor-Leste is now in the very final stretch of joining the WTO. I am confident that the Working Party will be in a position to adopt our Accession Package soon, while looking ahead towards the upcoming 13th WTO Ministerial Conference,” he told members.
Mr Kalbuadi Lay reported on the substantial progress achieved in bilateral market access negotiations with members, with all negotiations being concluded and remaining signings taking place in the coming days. He also noted that Timor-Leste is fully committed to going beyond what is expected from it as a least developed country (LDC), as reflected in the ambitious set of commitments it is ready to undertake, including joining the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and ITA Expansion Agreement. The corresponding draft schedules of commitments are scheduled to be formally considered for approval by the ITA Committee and the ITA Expansion Group on 19 October.
On the legislative side, he informed members that despite the recent change of Government, legislation needed for the accession and post-accession period continued to be drafted and adopted, respecting the agreed timelines. His statement is available here.
WTO Deputy-Director Xiangchen Zhang said he is impressed by the readiness of the Timor-Leste Government for WTO membership, which is also a critical step towards its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “I guess it is what we call: good things come in pairs,” he said.
DDG Zhang recalled that DG Okonjo-Iweala placed the accessions of two LDCs — Timor-Leste and Comoros — as a matter of priority, instructing the WTO Secretariat to facilitate the conclusion of the accessions as MC13 deliverables in line with the guidance given by ministers at MC12.
Members supported the objective of concluding this accession by MC13, acknowledging the significant efforts made by Timor-Leste over the last three years. They stressed that Timor-Leste has remained focused on finalizing the process, allowing it to make steady progress, and underlined the importance of LDCs joining the organization.
The Chair said that the 6th Working Party completed almost all the remaining elements in the accession negotiations, marking the conclusion of the last pending bilateral market access negotiations and progress towards finalization of discussions on the draft Working Party Report.
However, he expressed concern about timing, bearing in mind the tight calendar to clear the necessary procedures. The goal of the Chair is to proceed with the consolidation and verification of the draft Schedules on Goods and Services and the finalisation of the draft Report in November. The Working Party would then hold its next and final meeting by the end of 2023 to adopt ad referendum the draft Accession Package and transmit it to MC13 for formal action.