Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCES : briefing note

Accessions

The accessions of Comoros and Timor-Leste to the WTO represent a significant occasion at the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) as the WTO is opening the door to two new members, both least developed countries (LDCs), for the first time since 2016. Welcoming two new members at MC13 will send a strong message about the relevance and importance of the organization, with another 22 governments wanting to join, including many LDCs and fragile and conflict-affected states.

In January 2024, members negotiating the accession of both countries agreed by consensus on the terms of their WTO membership, paving the way for these two LDCs to join the organization. With the conclusion of the respective Working Party mandates, the accession packages for Comoros and Timor-Leste will be submitted to ministers for a formal decision on 26 February, on the opening day of MC13.

These are the first two accessions since Afghanistan and Liberia in 2016 – the longest gap in accessions in WTO history.

Comoros is an LDC in the Indian Ocean, with a population of approximately 820,000. The Government of the Union of the Comoros applied for accession to the WTO in February 2007, and the Working Party was established in October 2007. In October 2013, the country submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime, which provides the basis for WTO members to start examining the country’s foreign trade regulations. The first meeting of the Working Party on the Accession of the Union of the Comoros was held on 2 December 2016.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala congratulated Comoros for successfully completing the technical work on its accession. She paid tribute to Comoros President Azali Assoumani and the country's political leadership who have provided invaluable support for the accession effort since the Working Party first met in 2016.

DG Okonjo-Iweala emphasized the importance of LDCs joining the organization and stressed that Comoros brings a great deal to the WTO. In addition to being a member of the African Union, the Indian Ocean state is a member of both the Francophonie and the Arab League. On the latter, it is particularly significant that WTO members will welcome Comoros as a new member at the next Ministerial Conference in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Looking forward, she said that as a future WTO member, Comoros will need to shift focus towards how best to leverage the benefits of membership. She committed the support of the WTO Secretariat in the critical early post-accession phase of membership and beyond.

Find out more about the WTO accession negotiations of Comoros.

Timor-Leste is a least-developed island country at the southern extreme of the Malay Archipelago located off the south-eastern coast of Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans, with a population of approximately 1.3 million.

After gaining independence in 2002, the Government of Timor-Leste submitted its application for accession to the WTO in November 2016. The Working Party was established in December 2016.

Timor-Leste managed to complete the accession negotiations in record time for LDC accessions — just over seven years. WTO Deputy Director-General Johanna Hill noted that what is even more remarkable is that the active negotiation process picked up only in late 2020, during the pandemic. She underlined that the process has moved at a rapid pace since then, driven by Timor-Leste's strong commitment to accession and members' unshaken support to the process.

DDG Hill paid tribute to President José Ramos-Horta for his leadership in the accession process and noted that despite all challenges, Timor-Leste has become an example of how to use the accession process to reform and modernize a country's economy, accelerate growth and tackle LDC constraints, including by undertaking several “first LDC” accession commitments, including in market access.

The WTO Secretariat is working with Timor-Leste in the development of a Post-Accession Implementation Strategy, which will be presented at MC13 in Abu Dhabi following the adoption of the Accession Package. This work will continue in the post-accession period, aligned with the parallel accession of Timor-Leste to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Find out more about the WTO accession negotiations of Timor-Leste.

WTO members congratulated both countries and underlined the importance of incorporating two additional LDCs into the multilateral trading system, which encompasses 98 per cent of global trade. Members noted that the diligent and systematic work done by the governments of both countries, together with the political will demonstrated, showcase how the difficult process of WTO accession can be brought to a successful conclusion.