Accession in perspective

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The multilateral trading system came into being on 1 January 1948 when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1947) was signed by its 23 founding members.1 The GATT’s membership expanded considerably in the following decades as many countries gained their independence and took over the rights and obligations of membership that metropolitan powers had accepted on their behalf, and others negotiated their accession to the treaty. All the Members of GATT 1947 decided by the end of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations (1986-1994) to take on the greatly enlarged rights and obligations of the new organization they had negotiated — the World Trade Organization (WTO), which came into force on 1 January 1995 with 128 original Members.2 While these accounted for an extremely large percentage of world trade, many economies remained outside the multilateral system. Since its inception, WTO Members have repeatedly stressed their commitment to making the WTO universal in scope and coverage — an ambition shared by a large number of governments outside the system.

Since 1995 another 23 governments have negotiated their accession to the WTO, which now has 151 Members.3 This is an endorsement of the principles on which the organization is based and the validity of its disciplines. The new Members are, in the order in which they acceded:

1. Ecuador 12. Croatia
2. Bulgaria 13. Lithuania
3. Mongolia 14. Moldova
4. Panama 15. China
5. Kyrgyz Republic 16. Separate Customs Territory
of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and
Matsu (Chinese Taipei)
6. Latvia 17. Armenia
7. Estonia 18. The former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia
8. Jordan 19. Nepal (LDC)
9. Georgia 20. Cambodia (LDC)
10. Albania 21. Saudi Arabia
11. Oman 22. Viet Nam
23. Tonga

The detailed statistics contained in Annex 1 demonstrate that these new Members have made a significant contribution to the WTO’s goal of becoming a truly universal body. Based on these statistics, the percentage of world trade accounted for by Members of the organization has risen from 86.8 percent to 96.4 percent and the percentage of GDP from 89.4 percent to 96.7 percent. Population figures are equally relevant and important. Whereas original Members accounted for only 66.0 percent of the world’s population, the accession of the new Members has brought this figure up to 90.1 percent.

The WTO has shown itself flexible enough to accommodate Members of very different economic sizes, at all stages of economic development. The five which are largest in trade terms (EC, USA, China, Japan and Canada) account for as much as 68 percent of the trade of all WTO Members and the five smallest for less than 0.01 percent of that trade. Its membership includes not only all the wealthiest countries in the world but also 32 of the 50 least-developed countries (LDCs).4

There are at present another 32 governments which have applied to accede to the WTO (in alphabetical order):

1. Afghanistan (LDC) 17. Lebanon
2. Algeria 18. Liberia (LDC)
3. Andorra 19. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
4. Azerbaijan 20. Montenegro
5. Bahamas 21. Russian Federation
6. Belarus 22. Samoa (LDC)
7. Bhutan (LDC) 23. Sao Tomé and Principe (LDC)
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 24. Serbia
9. Cape Verde (LDC) 25. Seychelles
10. Comoros (LDC) 26. Sudan (LDC)
11. Equatorial Guinea (LDC) 27. Syria
12. Ethiopia (LDC) 28. Tajikistan
13. Iran 29. Ukraine
14. Iraq 30. Uzbekistan
15. Kazakhstan 31. Vanuatu (LDC)
16. Lao People’s Democratic
Republic (LDC)
32. Yemen (LDC)

The above account for 4 percent of world trade, 3.3 percent of world GDP but as much as 8.4 percent of world population. Their membership of the WTO would bring the coverage of the organization to 99.95 percent of world trade, 99.98 percent of world GDP and 99.35 percent of world population. Thirteen of these applicants are LDCs.

To date, only 13 member States of the United Nations have not applied to accede to the WTO. They are, in alphabetical order:

1. Eritrea (LDC) 8. Palau
2. Kiribati (LDC) 9. San Marino
3. People’s Democratic Republic of Korea 10. Somalia (LDC)
4. Marshall Islands 11. Timor-Leste (LDC)
5. Micronesia 12. Turkmenistan
6. Monaco 13. Tuvalu (LDC
7. Nauru

Together, these States account for 0.05 percent of total world trade, 0.03 percent of world GDP and 0.70 percent of world population. Five are LDCs.

These statistics give a good idea of the remaining scope for accession to the WTO.5 About a quarter of UN members are still not Members of the organization. Most of these are small in economic terms, but they are home to some 580 million people — 18 are LDCs. Only one, the Russian Federation, has more than 1 percent of world trade.

Annex 1 contains an overview of these findings and the detailed statistics on which they are based.



1. “Contracting Parties”  back to text
2. See Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Article XI, Original Membership. The original Members included the member States of the European Communities (EC) and the EC themselves. The WTO legal texts refer to the EC not the European Union as the Union does not have a legal personality.
Though not original Members, the General Council gave Granada, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the United Arab Emirates additional time to complete the negotiation of their Schedules. These countries acceded to the WTO after 1 January 1995 under the special procedures established by the General Council (WTO document WT/L/30).  back to text
3. August 2007.  back to text
4. As defined by the United Nations.  back to text
5. As noted below, some separate customs territories may also accede to the WTO.  back to text




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