Timor-Leste has reached the final steps to complete WTO accession negotiations

GENEVA (TOP) - Timor-Leste has entered the final stages of becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) after submitting its application in 2016.

The Government of Timor-Leste applied for accession to the World Trade Organization in November 2016. At its meeting on 7 December 2016, the General Council established a Working Party to examine the application of the Government of Timor-Leste to accede to the World Trade Organization, under article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO.

At the sixth meeting of the Working Party on 11 October, WTO members commended Timor-Leste for its strong commitment and technical work to bring its WTO accession negotiations to closure. Timor-Leste stressed its determination to resolve outstanding technical issues, enact the few outstanding draft laws still required and sign pending bilateral market access agreements so that it remains on track to complete its accession process at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in late February 2024.

Chaired by Ambassador Rui Macieira of Portugal, the Working Party welcomed a high-level delegation from Dili led by Mr Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, Vice Prime-Minister, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs, and Minister of Tourism and Environment, who was recently appointed as WTO chief negotiator. The Timorese delegation also included Mr Miguel Marques Gonçalves Manetelu, Minister of Transport and Communications, and Mr Filipus Nino Pereira, Minister of Trade and Industry.

Ambassador Macieira noted that the sixth Working Party took place exactly three years after its first meeting in October 2020.

Ambassador Macieira.

“I have been impressed by the speed of the progress which we have been able to make in this Working Party. I am told by the Secretariat this is the fastest moving dossier among the 24 ongoing accessions. This is thanks to the hard work and determination of the Timorese negotiating team and the support and cooperation by all members,” he said.

“I strongly believe that Timor-Leste is now well on track for WTO membership, with most of the key elements in the accession negotiations already resolved and agreed,” said Ambassador Macieira.

The Chair also stressed the direct involvement and facilitation at the political level of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala since the negotiations entered a critical phase during the last few months. Last week, she welcomed President José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste to the WTO, offering her support and advice for the finalization of the accession process by MC13, and re-confirming the WTO Secretariat's readiness to work with Dili to prepare for post-accession.

Timor-Leste's chief negotiator said a tremendous effort has been made to adapt and make progress, constructively and creatively, to keep Timor-Leste on a fast-accession track.

“I hope you will all agree with me that Timor-Leste is now in the very final stretch of joining the WTO. I am confident that the Working Party will be in a position to adopt our Accession Package soon, while looking ahead towards the upcoming 13th WTO Ministerial Conference,” he told members.

Dato Sri Francisco Kalbuadi Lay reported on the substantial progress achieved in bilateral market access negotiations with members, with all negotiations being concluded and remaining signings taking place in the coming days. He also noted that Timor-Leste is fully committed to going beyond what is expected from it as a least developed country (LDC), as reflected in the ambitious set of commitments it is ready to undertake, including joining the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) and ITA Expansion Agreement. The corresponding draft schedules of commitments are scheduled to be formally considered for approval by the ITA Committee and the ITA Expansion Group on 19 October.

On the legislative side, he informed members that despite the recent change of Government, legislation needed for the accession and post-accession period continued to be drafted and adopted, respecting the agreed timelines. His statement is available here.

WTO Deputy-Director Xiangchen Zhang said he is impressed by the readiness of the Timor-Leste Government for WTO membership, which is also a critical step towards its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “I guess it is what we call: good things come in pairs,” he said.

DDG Zhang recalled that DG Okonjo-Iweala placed the accessions of two LDCs — Timor-Leste and  Comoros — as a matter of priority, instructing the WTO Secretariat to facilitate the conclusion of the accessions as MC13 deliverables in line with the guidance given by ministers at MC12.

Members supported the objective of concluding this accession by MC13, acknowledging the significant efforts made by Timor-Leste over the last three years. They stressed that Timor-Leste has remained focused on finalizing the process, allowing it to make steady progress, and underlined the importance of LDCs joining the organization.

Next steps

The Chair said that the 6th Working Party completed almost all the remaining elements in the accession negotiations, marking the conclusion of the last pending bilateral market access negotiations and progress towards finalization of discussions on the draft Working Party Report.

However, he expressed concern about timing, bearing in mind the tight calendar to clear the necessary procedures. The goal of the Chair is to proceed with the consolidation and verification of the draft Schedules on Goods and Services and the finalisation of the draft Report in November. The Working Party would then hold its next and final meeting by the end of 2023 to adopt ad referendum the draft Accession Package and transmit it to MC13 for formal action.

Previously, the Timor-Leste government had signed bilateral agreements on market access with seven other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Cambodia, the European Union, the Philippines and Canada. And will sign again with Indonesia and Thailand at the end of this month.

The United States Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai is very pleased with Timor-Leste's rapid progress in the WTO accession process.

After making a presentation on Timor-Leste's accession to the WTO, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Minister of Tourism and Environment, Dato Sri Francisco Kalbuadi Lay immediately signed a bilateral agreement on market access with the United States trade representative in Geneva, Switzerland on 11 October 2023 .Credit US Mission in Geneva.

“The United States is pleased to announce the completion of bilateral market access negotiations with Timor-Leste, as part of Timor-Leste’s efforts to accede to the World Trade Organization. Timor-Leste applied for WTO accession in 2016 and began actively working toward this goal in 2020.  Timor-Leste’s strong commitment to advance negotiations enabled significant progress within the last two years, including the conclusion of our bilateral agreement.
“The United States looks forward to working with Timor-Leste and other WTO Members as Timor-Leste strives to advance and complete its accession.  In parallel to the WTO accession process, Timor-Leste is also engaged in separate negotiations toward acceding to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”

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