Representatives from acceding governments, WTO members, development partners, the private sector and international organizations attended the event, just hours before ministers formally adopt the terms of accession of Comoros (member of the Arab League) and Timor-Leste during the opening ceremony of the Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking at the opening of the high-level session, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted that the Arab world remains the most underrepresented in the WTO. “Even after the 17-year process that culminated in Comoros' accession, we still have Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria in the queue. Many have been in the process for a long time — 20 years on average,” she said.

Despite the lack of Arab accessions in recent years, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted that many of the best accessions stories come from the region: Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia have all enjoyed strong economic growth since joining the WTO in the early 2000s. Their success as WTO members points to the potential that the region has to become an important part of global trade.

She also emphasised the need for tailored technical assistance and capacity building programmes, and thanked the WTO's development partners in the region — the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the Islamic Centre for Development of Trade (ICDT), as well as the International Trade Centre (ITC), World Bank and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) — for the support they provide to acceding governments in the Arab region.

She particularly thanked IsDB, ICDT and AMF for their support of her proposal during the 2nd Regional Dialogue on WTO Accessions for the Arab Region for a forthcoming joint study on Arab accessions entitled “Best Practices in WTO Accessions for the Arab Region: Lessons from Past and Ongoing Accessions in the Region”. She expressed the hope that the insights and recommendations stemming from the study would ensure more effective technical assistance and capacity building initiatives in the future.

DG Okonjo-Iweala also noted that Comoros and Timor-Leste, both fragile and conflict-affected states (FCS), showcase how to overcome capacity constraints and institutional fragility to seize the opportunity that WTO accession presents for economic reform and modernization.

Dr Thani bin Ahmed al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade of the UAE and MC13 Chair, echoed the Director-General's remarks. He highlighted the importance of WTO accession and integration into the global economy for Arab countries and pointed out how the UAE had used its WTO membership to pursue economic diversification and become one of the world's leading financial and tourism centres.

Mr Wang Wentao, China's Minister of Commerce, discussed the importance of least developed country (LDC) participation in the multilateral trading system, commemorating the achievement of Comoros and Timor-Leste and highlighting the value of the China Programme, especially the Round Tables. The different thematic focuses of each China Round Table help to zoom in on particular accessions-related issues. The discussions held throughout the day-and-a-half event this year brought visibility to the challenges faced by Arab acceding governments.

Dr Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi, Minister of Commerce of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Coordinator of the Arab Group, highlighted the importance of Arab participation in regional and global trade to increase resilience and integration. He praised platforms like the China Round Table and initiatives like the Trade for Peace Programme for focusing the discussion on the countries which need it the most.

Mr Ryad Mezzour, Minister of Commerce of the Kingdom of Morocco, applauded the efforts of Comoros and Timor-Leste, two LDCs affected by fragility and conflict, to integrate into the multilateral trading system, which provides evidence of the value of WTO membership.

The high-level segment of the opening session was attended by Mr Sultan Chouzour, Comoros Ambassador to the WTO, on behalf of President Azali Assoumani, and Mr Marcos Da Cruz, Agriculture Minister of Timor-Leste, on behalf of President José Ramos-Horta.

The opening session was followed by the signing ceremony by DG Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Wang of the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of the WTO's Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and Accessions Programme (also known as the China Programme). Launched in 2011, the China Programme aims at strengthening LDCs' participation in the WTO and assisting acceding governments in joining the organization.

This was the third time a China Round Table was held on the margins of a Ministerial Conference, following Nairobi (MC10) in 2015 and Buenos Aires (MC11) in 2017.

The event can be watched here.





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