Timor-Leste’s participation in the WTO accession protocol signing ceremony

DILI (TOP) – Timor-Leste, represented by the Vice Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, signed the protocol to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on February 26th, 2024.

This historic act occurred during the WTO's 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and marks a fundamental step towards liberalising trade, integrating into the global economy, and facilitating access to international markets.

Timor-Leste was represented by a comprehensive national delegation led by the Vice Prime Minister and Chief Negotiator for Timor-Leste's accession to the WTO, Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, which included members of the government, heads of state institutions, and technical teams relevant to trade and economic matters, as well as to the accession process. The delegation also included the President of the Republic, the President of the National Parliament, and the leaders of the parliamentary benches.

The Vice Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs publicly took responsibility for managing the delegation, emphasising that the actual number of members present in the national delegation was 78, not 121, with each carrying out specific functions. He also emphasised that the delegation was absent from sightseeing but from working actively in technical meetings, consolidating the efforts that preceded accession, and planning the next steps.

Active participation in the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference goes beyond the signing of the accession protocol, providing the national delegation with the opportunity to exchange experiences and establish valuable contacts that can benefit Timor-Leste's economy and society. This participation also allows for involvement in activities parallel to the event, namely the discussion and preparation of measures to be adopted in the post-accession period. This event represents a unique opportunity to strengthen trade relations, attract investment, and promote sustainable growth.

Four technicians and four officials from the Vice Prime Minister's Office accompanied the Chief Negotiator. Two technicians accompanied the Minister of Transport and Communication. Four Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Forestry technicians accompanied the Minister. The minister and three officials represented the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The Central Bank of Timor-Leste (BCTL) was represented exclusively by its Governor. Two technicians accompanied the Minister of the Interior. Other state institutions, such as the Customs Authority, TradeInvest, IQTL, and SERVE, among others, were also represented. The Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste in Geneva also took part, accompanied by a technician.

A team of national experts was involved in technical meetings in the two weeks leading up to the signing of the WTO accession protocol. After the signing, the Ministers of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and Transport and Communications, with their technical teams, remained in Abu Dhabi until March 1st, 2024, responsible for preparing legal instruments and policies related to trade and industrial practices in Timor-Leste. Francisco Kalbuadi Lay also emphasised that since 2016, the national technical teams have been working intensively on producing and translating 330 legal and regulatory documents now submitted to the WTO as part of the accession process.

The team will continue to work to ensure that national policies and legislation meet WTO legal standards and comply with the commitments made by Timor-Leste in its accession package to the organisation. There are more than a hundred pieces of legislation that the country will have to prepare in the post-accession period.

It was also clarified that the delegation did not include any dance groups. Still, only two singers and two other people were assigned to manage the Timorese pavilion at the WTO fair, where national products such as coffee and Tais (handwoven traditional textiles) were presented.

The Vice Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Francisco Kalbuadi Lay.

The Vice Prime Minister called this accession a huge and historic achievement, saying that it was the fastest accession process in the history of the WTO. In just seven years, meeting the requirements for full membership in the organisation was possible. However, other countries had to wait up to twenty years, and some are still waiting to join.

The Director-General of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also expressed her positive appreciation for the speed shown in the national effort to fulfil the necessary requirements for full membership, compared to the accession processes of other countries.

Francisco Kalbuadi Lay said that Timor-Leste's official accession to the WTO on February 26th, 2024, is a source of great pride for the country, especially considering its status as a small and recently independent nation. The signing ceremony for Timor-Leste's accession to the WTO was broadcast live and watched by more than a million people worldwide.

The Vice Prime Minister expressed his deep gratitude to the President of the Republic, José Ramos-Horta, for his presence at the solemn signing ceremony, representing the State of Timor-Leste. He also explained that the President of the Republic was present as the WTO's guest of honour. Because the Prime Minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, could not attend, the President of the Republic, as Head of State, represented the entire Timorese people at the event.

He also argued for the importance of the participation of the President of the National Parliament, Maria Fernanda Lay, and the leaders of the parliamentary benches invited by the WTO to take part in this historic ceremony, which is of enormous pride and prestige for Timor-Leste, as well as to take part in the discussion on the parliamentary work of WTO members in terms of legislative policy.

The presence of this delegation at such an essential event for the country attests to the relevance of this historic moment for Timor-Leste. It symbolises national unity internationally, promoting a shared vision for the country's future. The inclusion of representatives from all the political parties with seats in the National Parliament in this delegation highlights the collective commitment to ensuring that the trade policies adopted are aligned with the interests and needs of all Timorese.

Regarding the costs associated with the delegation's participation, he said that they were only strictly necessary to follow current national standards and laws. 

Ministers approve WTO membership of Comoros and Timor-Leste at MC13

Ministers formally approved the WTO membership terms of Comoros and Timor-Leste at a special ceremony held at the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on 26 February 2024. The respective governments said the ceremony marked a historic day for both least-developed countries (LDCs) and a significant step in their quest to accelerate economic and political reforms.

Trade ministers unanimously welcomed both WTO membership deals, which were approved at the MC13 opening ceremony attended by President Azali Assoumani of Comoros and President José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste. UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Trade and MC13 Chair Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi and Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also attended the ceremony. The two Protocols of Accession were officially signed at the end of the ceremony.

In her address to ministers, DG Okonjo-Iweala paid special tribute to the governments of both countries for “this historic achievement” and for having undertaken an extensive programme of domestic reforms to accelerate economic growth despite very challenging circumstances.

She said: “I am delighted to say that we are kicking off this meeting with some excellent news. Here at MC13, the WTO is welcoming its first new members in almost eight years: Timor-Leste and Comoros. We celebrate the hard work they have put in, and the beneficial but challenging reforms they have implemented at home. Both countries are least developed countries, and we are excited to see them reap the gains of membership as they become new members of the WTO.”

Twenty-two more countries are seeking to follow in their footsteps — many of them were present in Abu Dhabi, including a sizeable contingent from the Arab world. Comoros and Timor-Leste will bring the total number of WTO members to 166. “We look forward to adding to that number in the years ahead,” said Director-General Okonjo-Iweala.

President Assoumani said: “Comoros' accession to the WTO will be immensely beneficial for our entire economy, for public and private enterprises, and for consumers. It will contribute to our country's trade diversification and partnership efforts, to its integration into regional, continental and global value chains. Through WTO accession, my country will achieve its objectives.”

President Ramos-Horta said: “Being a WTO member is essential to unleash the potential of our economy in several sectors. We are committed to diversify our economy, become a part of the value chain of the global economy and to improve the life of our people through trade.” 

Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi said: “The decisions we have just taken on the accession of Comoros — an island LDC in Africa — and the accession of Timor-Leste — an island LDC in Asia — testify to the world's confidence in the WTO and the multilateral trading system. I strongly believe that through their future membership in the WTO, Comoros and Timor-Leste will have stable and predictable frameworks for economic engagement with other nations which will boost trade, growth and prosperity.”

Both governments will now submit their Protocols for ratification by their legislative assemblies. In keeping with WTO rules, Comoros and Timor-Leste will become members of the WTO 30 days following the deposit of the respective instruments of acceptance of the Protocol.

Comoros' Working Party was established on 9 October 2007. Members of the Working Party concluded the negotiations on 9 January 2024.

The list of Comoros’s commitments is available here.

Timor-Leste's Working Party was established on 7 December 2016. Members of the Working Party concluded the negotiations on 11 January 2024.

The list of Timor-Leste’s commitments is available here.

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