Under the chairmanship of Ambassador Omar Zniber of Morocco, the Working Party welcomed a high-level delegation from Comoros led by Mr Ahmed Ali Bazi, Minister of Economy, Industry, Investment, and WTO chief negotiator. The delegation included senior officials representing customs, the tax authority, and the Ministry of Economy, as well as the Vice-President of the National Assembly Mr Ahamada Baco.
Ambassador Zniber said: “My wish for the new year, which I hope is shared by all of you, is to help our Comorian friends conclude their accession. I am sure that this objective is within reach. It goes without saying that in the end the bulk of the effort will have to be made in Moroni where important legislative and technical work will have to be carried out in the coming months.”
“At the same time, we all recognize that the Secretariat, WTO members and the broader international community of bilateral and multilateral development partners must also intensify their support for Comoros' efforts, including to prepare it to meet the challenges of the immediate post-accession period,” he added.
Minister Bazi noted that the Government of Comoros has done all in its power to complete the negotiations, aiming at WTO accession within the shortest possible timeframe. “We are fully aware of the efforts that we still need to make if we are to achieve this objective. I would just like to reassure members that we have the utmost determination to take the necessary measures and make the necessary reforms to complete the accession process as quickly as possible,” he said.
Members agreed that Comoros is on a good path towards accession and expressed their full support in order to help Comoros get closer to the finish line. Noting the progress made since the last Working Party meeting in May 2022, many members underlined the importance of Comoros becoming part of the multilateral trading system by MC13. This would be particularly significant, they argued, at a time when the world is facing increasing economic and trade-related challenges.
In line with what ministers said at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) last June, many members underscored the importance of accessions, noting that although no new accessions have taken place since July 2016, several candidates have made encouraging progress. Several delegations voiced their commitment to provide technical assistance, including in the post-accession phase.
The Chair of the Working Party noted that WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Deputy Director-General Zhang Xiangchen are closely following this accession. In particular, their priority has been to ensure that Comoros receives all the support it needs from the Secretariat.
Ambassador Zniber also noted that in 2023, Comoros will assume the presidency of the African Union, taking over from Senegal in February. Therefore, Comoros will have a leading role to play in the realization of the African Union's Agenda 2063, in addition to the objective of bringing a new member from the continent into the WTO.
Currently, nine African countries are candidates for accession to the WTO, which represents more than a third of current accessions. Comoros is also part of the Arab region, where WTO accessions are also a priority.
Moving forward, Ambassador Zniber said that there will be a clear need to intensify bilateral dialogue between Comoros and interested members. In particular, he invited delegations to engage on a continuous basis to clarify the handful of outstanding issues and agree on the specifics of what remains to be done.
Concerning the draft Report of the Working Party — the final document passed on to the General Council for approval, covering the applicant country’s commitments on opening its markets and on applying WTO rules — the Chair noted that many chapters were reaching an advanced stage of technical maturity. At this point, work would need to focus on the elaboration of agreed commitment language and the integration of issue-specific action plans.
On the market access front, he called for the circulation of the draft schedules on goods and services before the end of January, for technical verification by signatory members.
On the legislative front, Comoros was reminded that the conclusion of the accession process now depends on Comoros adopting the domestic legislative reforms necessary to bring its foreign trade regime into line with WTO rules in the coming months.
No date was set for the next Working Party meeting, but the Chair stated that, all going well, the ninth meeting of the Working Group could take place well before the summer break.