In a recorded message, President Ramos-Horta said that Timor-Leste is “fully committed as a least-developed country to abide by the principal objectives and rules of the World Trade Organization, and to implement domestic and structural legislative and policy reforms.” He noted that the Working Party meeting, the fifth in just two and a half years, reflects Timor-Leste's “strong hope to conclude our discussion with members on the outstanding issues, as we move closer to our WTO membership.”

“For us, becoming a member is essential to unleash the potential of our economy in several sectors. Trade is an engine for development and Timor-Leste has a huge potential yet to be explored. As a full member, we will be able to diversify our economy, become part of the value chain of global economies and bring about more cross-border business opportunities,” he added. His remarks are available here.

DG Okonjo-Iweala welcomed “the strong commitment of Timor-Leste to this process” and the political will demonstrated by the Timorese authorities “to use trade and the multilateral trading system as tools for delivering development and prosperity for its people.”

She recalled the strong mandate from the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022 to focus on the accessions of least-developed countries (LDCs), reaffirming the importance of all accessions and renewing the commitment to conclude ongoing accession processes.

“It's heartening to see that two small countries, Timor-Leste and Comoros — another LDC — are those that are most advanced to try to conclude this process and achieve WTO membership. My hope is that we can deliver these accessions for the 13th Ministerial Conference,” she said.

The meeting of the Working Party was attended by a high-level 30-member Timorese delegation, led by Mr Joaquim Amaral, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and Chief Negotiator for WTO Accession. WTO Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang also attended the meeting.

Mr Amaral stressed the substantial progress made in bilateral market access negotiations on goods and services since the last Working Party meeting in September 2022, including agreements with Canada, the Philippines, the European Union, Japan, Cambodia and Thailand. He expressed the hope that the last remaining negotiations, with the United States and Indonesia, could be finalized in the short term. He also updated members on the legislative developments to adapt to WTO rules.  

Timor-Leste's Chief Negotiator noted that accession to the WTO, as well as to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), represents an opportunity for his country to “accelerate important and necessary reforms.” Mr Amaral expressed the hope that discussion with members on outstanding issues will be resolved quickly and will confirm that Timor-Leste has honoured its commitments and “is ready to become the 165th member of the organization.” His statement is available here.

The Chair of the Working Party, Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, reported on the good progress made since the last meeting, and underlined the importance of Timor-Leste officially submitting its draft Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and ITA Expansion schedules of commitments to the ITA Committee and the ITA Expansion Group so that these bodies could take decisions on the schedules before the summer break.

“Along with Dili's announcement during MC12 to join the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation — also as the first LDC to do so — Timor-Leste has shown remarkable leadership and is proving a good example to other accessions and to all LDCs in using the WTO to drive domestic reform and a transformation agenda,” said Ambassador Macieira.

The Chair of the Working Party shared his belief that “Timor-Leste is on track for WTO membership” thanks to the strong political will from the highest level of the Government and the consistent commitment demonstrated by Mr Amaral and his team.

“Timor-Leste will make an excellent addition to the WTO family, bringing a real benefit to the multilateral trading system. This is in line with the commitment made by WTO ministers at MC12 to facilitate the conclusion of ongoing accessions, especially for least-developed countries, reflected in paragraph 6 of the Outcome Document. I cannot overemphasize the importance of consistent support from members and technical assistance to Timor-Leste,” he added.

Members commended the good work done by Timor-Leste and reiterated their strong 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 (where only two bilateral agreements remained to be finalised), multilateral discussions on rules (by unbracketing 28 out of 30 draft commitments in the draft Working Party Report, meaning these are now firm commitments), and remaining legislation.

Following the Working Party meeting, the WTO Secretariat organised a meeting of the Coordination Group on Accessions-Related Technical Assistance (TA). Building on the exchanges at the previous TA Round Tables, the meeting discussed technical assistance and capacity building needs of Timor-Leste and Comoros as they prepare for their post-accession.

This exchange contributed to launching the work on the development of Timor-Leste's Post-Accession Implementation Strategy, with the assistance of the WTO Secretariat and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Next steps

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.

The intention of Ambassador Macieira is to conclude the Working Party's mandate before the end of 2023, with a decision by the entire WTO membership at the 13th Ministerial Conference. This would enable the Government of Timor-Leste to proceed to domestic ratification of the Accession Protocol in the first half of 2024.

The Chair invited Timor-Leste and the two members still involved in bilateral market access negotiations to finalise these negotiations and sign agreements as soon as possible in the coming weeks. Once all agreements are signed and deposited, the WTO Secretariat will consolidate them into the draft Schedules on Goods and Services, which will be subject to technical verification by signatory members.

The Chair hoped the next Working Party will be able to “unbracket” the remaining draft commitments and close all sections of the draft Report. He also invited Timor-Leste to submit the information related to the agriculture support tables so that they can be approved by the Working Party at its next meeting.

Timor-Leste was invited to continue intensively its work  on legislation to adopt a few remaining pieces before conclusion of the Working Party mandate.

The timing of the next Working Party meeting will depend on the progress made in the coming months. The Chair intends to hold the 6th Working Party meeting in September as long as all necessary inputs are provided by Timor-Leste. This would pave the way for the Working Party to conclude its mandate before the end of the year and transmit Timor-Leste's Accession Package to MC13 for formal approval.




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