Maximizing the benefits of WTO membership: Life after accession for Afghanistan and Liberia

Nairobi, 19 July 2016

Opportunities and challenges of how Afghanistan and Liberia can fully utilize their accession to the WTO with development partners' support were at the core of the discussions in today's high-level Post‑Accession Forum Breakfast, held in the margins of the Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIV) in Nairobi.

The event followed the approval of the Protocols on the Accession of Afghanistan and Liberia by the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference held in December 2015.

"This Forum is symbolic in many ways. Last December, in this same city, the Protocols on the Accession of Liberia and Afghanistan were formally approved by WTO Ministers during the Tenth Ministerial Conference. As many of you may recall, the decisions on the two LDC accessions provided inspiration and generated positive momentum, for the historic outcome, which the Nairobi WTO Ministerial Conference was able to achieve after five days of intensive negotiations," Mr Frederick Yonov Agah, WTO Deputy Director-General, said while congratulating Afghanistan and Liberia on the intensive accession work and in using WTO accession to pursue domestic reforms, based on the WTO core values of non‑discrimination, market opening, the rule of law and good governance.

Celebrating the two countries' accessions, "today's Post-Accession Forum builds on the outcomes from the two post-accession activities, by bringing Liberia and Afghanistan together back to the stage where they started their post-accession journey seven months ago," Mr Agah stressed, also highlighting the opportunities that the WTO membership would bring to their economies, as well as calling on the international community to step up support to them, so that the benefits can be felt by each and every citizen of the two new WTO Members. "The accessions of Liberia and Afghanistan have significantly enriched the Multilateral Trading System. Together, let us solidify their integration in the system through a well-established post-accession support. WTO Secretariat is ready to do its part, together with our long‑standing partnership with you all," he said.

"We have come a long way since 2004 when Afghanistan first applied for WTO membership. Since then, we have implemented significant policy, legal and institutional reforms in alignment with WTO rules, principles and agreements," Afghanistan's Minister of Commerce and Industries, H.E. Mr Humayoon Rasaw, said, acknowledging the support that Afghanistan had received from bilateral development partners and multilateral and regional institutions, which were instrumental in carrying out the negotiations under challenging circumstances and capacity constraints.

H.E. Mr Rasaw also pledged commitment to maximize the benefits of WTO membership by sustaining the modernization and reforms of his country's economy, enhancing growth and development, securing stable and non-discriminatory access for Afghan exports, as well as improving the business environment and integrating into the rules-based global economy. "We understand that the continued post-accession support will remain critical in the process. I would like to reiterate Afghanistan’s determination and commitment to play by the rules of the multilateral trading system. We view adherence to WTO agreements as critical for strengthening the rule of law, increasing transparency and building the foundation for sound economic development in Afghanistan," he added.

Thanking Liberians and other development partners including the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), H.E. Mr Axel Addy, Liberia's Minister of Commerce and Industry, noted that his country had spent eight years negotiating to join the WTO, and he emphasized how "WTO Membership lays the foundation for the establishment of a system that promotes inclusive economic growth, attracts foreign investment and creates an environment focused on increasing international trade. Today we are proud to be an official Member of the WTO and subscribe to its rules and values."

He further elaborated on Liberia's post-accession implementation, emphasizing that WTO accession was tied to Liberia's national development plan, the Agenda for Transformation. "Our accession is seen as a critical component of our domestic reforms agenda targeted at diversifying our economy, promoting international trade and encouraging local and foreign investments beyond the traditional extractive industries," he noted. To facilitate a smooth transition from accession negotiations to post-accession implementation, basic institutional and legal mechanisms based on key priorities had been identified and encapsulated into a plan, The Liberia Post Accession Plan (LPAP). The LPAP accounts for targeted priorities manifested in the National Export Strategy and the EIF-sponsored Diagnostic Trade Integration Study, as well as the National Trade Policy. In concluding, H.E. Mr Addy stressed Liberia's trading vision: "We are retelling Liberia’s story as one of resilience, transformation and growth despite the challenges."

As one of the international partners supporting the accessions of both Afghanistan and Liberia, the Executive Directors of both ITC and the EIF provided remarks, with Ms Arancha Gonzalez advising on the post-accession support strategy. She noted: "ITC has been a partner to both of these countries in their road to accession. And will remain a steadfast partner moving forward in this important post‑accession phase what I call 'once in the WTO, go deep'. For of course what really matters now is helping these two countries in particular – especially given their difficult reality – to grow and create jobs through trade."

On his part, following up on his promise of EIF support made to Afghanistan and Liberia during the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC10), Mr Ratnakar Adhikari emphasized how the EIF was concretely supporting both countries, six months after MC10. With Afghanistan, he underscored that EIF support would be aligned with the priorities identified in the Policy Dialogue on Post-Accession Implementation, in particular on trade facilitation and support to MSMEs, export promotion and institutional capacity building for both the public and the private sectors.

Mr Adhikari further elaborated on how the EIF programme was helping Liberia in implementing its WTO post-accession strategy by supporting the Single Projects Implementation Unit, which coordinates various technical assistance projects coming into the Ministry, the support to key sectors of tourism and wood furniture, with technical assistance from ITC, and the support on leveraging additional resources and ensuring effective implementation. "Through the EIF Trust Fund, the EIF stands ready to support Afghanistan and Liberia to fully own and implement a trade agenda conducive to sustainable pro-poor growth and to increase the competitiveness and presence in international markets as necessary," Mr Adhikari concluded.

H.E. Mr Pan Sorasak, Minister of Commerce of the Kingdom of Cambodia, also shared Cambodia's experience in using the EIF to implement its post-accession strategy and in creating an enabling environment for investment, putting in place a trade facilitation regulatory framework and utilizing the EIF programme to support key sectors spurring economic growth.

In concluding the event, Mr Joakim Reiter, the Deputy Secretary‑General of UNCTAD and the Former Chairman of the WTO Working Party on the Accession of the Republic of Liberia, emphasized that WTO accession was very important and required full ownership, political commitment and to be part of a comprehensive national plan. "These sustained reforms require sustained assistance, for which UNCTAD is ready to help," Mr Reiter remarked.