Nepal’s WTO Accession Experience Shared with Afghanistan
South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) organized a half-day interaction programme for the Delegation of Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to share Nepal’s experiences on accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), on 8 January 2012. A 20-member delegation led by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Afghanistan and having representation from nine ministries of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI)—the apex chamber of commerce—and a development partner participated in the meeting. The objective of the meeting for the foreign delegation was to learn from Nepal’s WTO accession experience and utilize the knowledge during Afghanistan’s ongoing accession negotiations at the WTO. The delegation, led by Deputy Minister Mr. Mozammil Shinwari, Director General of International Trade Directorate of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is currently in Nepal for a week-long WTO study tour.
“Since Afghanistan and Nepal share a number of similarities in terms of geographic location, development status, and political transition we chose to visit Nepal to learn from its accession experience,” said Deputy Minister Shinwari, adding that “we came to know that Nepal has achieved the best deal in terms of securing policy space at the time of WTO accession and hence we are interested to learn from Nepal”.
Welcoming the participants, Dr. Posh Raj Pandey, Executive Chairman, SAWTEE, said that WTO membership is not an end in itself; it should be viewed as a means to help the country achieve its development objectives. He made a presentation on “Nepal’s Accession to WTO: Nepal’s Experiences” in which he highlighted how Nepal achieved a balanced accession package by safeguarding Nepal’s developmental interests. He alerted the members of the delegation to remain vigilant to the “WTO-plus” conditions (conditions that go beyond what is required by the WTO) and “WTO-minus” conditions (conditions that do not allow acceding countries to make use of any provision that currently exists in the WTO) incumbent members might impose on the acceding countries. This is because the WTO does not have clear-cut guidelines on the accession of countries and customs territories and the system de facto operates as if acceding countries have to pay the “price” for becoming a member of the WTO.
Making his remarks, Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari, General Secretary, SAWTEE, highlighted the role played by civil society in Nepal during the process of WTO accession, particularly in the area of maintaining policy space to protect the interest of consumers, farmers and small and medium enterprises. He also mentioned that protecting the “food security” interest of the country was of paramount significance throughout the process of accession. Dr. Adhikari mentioned that it was necessary for Afghanistan to point towards the General Council Decision of December 2002 on WTO Accession as well as Nepal’s accession package when it is asked to make any “WTO-plus” and “WTO minus” commitments. He also alerted the visiting delegates not to set a deadline for the WTO accession, failing which there would be a potential for the incumbent members to impose onerous requirements.
During the open discussion, questions were raised and answers were provided on issues ranging from services liberalization and transit rights to plurilateral agreements and policy space required to protect the developmental interest of Afghanistan.