The WTO accepts the United Nations classification of LDCs and therefore currently recognizes 50 countries as falling into that category17. Thirty of these were original Members of the WTO and two have since acceded (Cambodia and Nepal). These 32 comprise over one fifth of the WTO’s membership. A further 13 (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cape Verde, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Lao PDR, Liberia, Samoa, Sao Tomé and Principe, Sudan, Vanuatu, and Yemen) are currently in the process of accession. The other five remain outside the system (Eritrea, Kiribati, Somalia, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu).
Following the Doha Ministerial, a WTO Work Programme for LDCs was launched.18 The implementation of this Programme led to the adoption by the General Council of the Guidelines for the Accession of LDCs in December 2002. In the Guidelines, Members decided that negotiations for the accession of LDCs to the WTO should be facilitated and accelerated through simplified and streamlined accession procedures, with a view to concluding these negotiations as quickly as possible. The full text of the Guidelines is reproduced in Annex 4.19
In the area of market access, WTO Members are to “exercise restraint in seeking concessions and commitments on trade in goods and services from acceding LDCs, taking into account the levels of concessions and commitments undertaken by existing WTO LDCs’ Members”. For their part, acceding LDCs are expected to offer “reasonable market access concessions and commitments on goods and services commensurate with their individual development, financial and trade needs”, in line with relevant WTO provisions on goods and services.
In the area of WTO Rules, the Guidelines state that special and differential treatment, as set out in the Multilateral Trade Agreements, Ministerial Decisions, and other relevant WTO legal instruments, shall be applicable to all acceding LDCs, from the date of entry into force of their respective Protocols of Accession. The Guidelines provide that “transitional periods/transitional arrangements foreseen under specific WTO agreements, to enable acceding LDCs to effectively implement commitments and obligations, shall be granted in accession negotiations taking into account individual development, financial and trade needs” and that “these transitional periods/arrangements shall be accompanied by Action Plans for compliance with WTO rules, supported by Technical Assistance and Capacity Building measures for the acceding LDCs”. Finally under this heading, the Guidelines make clear that “commitments to accede to any of the WTO plurilateral trade agreements or to participate in other optional sectoral market access initiatives shall not be a precondition for accession to the Multilateral Trade Agreements of the WTO” but “WTO Members may seek to ascertain acceding LDCs interests in the plurilateral trade agreements”.
With regard to the “process of accession”, the Guidelines state that the good offices of the Director-General shall be available to assist acceding LDCs and chairpersons of the LDCs’ accession Working Parties in implementing this decision and call for continued efforts to expedite and streamline the process of accession.
The Guidelines then go on to lay down that targeted and coordinated technical assistance and capacity building shall be provided by the WTO and other relevant multilateral, regional and bilateral development partners, on a priority basis, to assist acceding LDCs. Assistance shall be accorded with the objective of effectively integrating the acceding LDC into the multilateral trading system. Technical assistance and capacity building is to cover all stages of the accession process, i.e. from the preparation of documentation to the setting up of the legislative infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms.
The implementation of these Guidelines is reviewed regularly and the results of these reviews are included in the Annual Report of the Committee on Trade and Development to the WTO General Council.