11 Feb 2020
ETHIOPIA: WTO Accession Talks Resume, Membership Targeted for 2021
Ethiopia has resumed official negotiations for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). WTO members attending the fourth meeting of the Working Party on Ethiopia’s accession, held on 30 January 2020 in Geneva, expressed their unanimous support for the resumption of talks, which have been stalled for eight years. According to the Ethiopian delegation, led by Mamo Mihretu, Senior Advisor and Chief Trade Negotiator at the Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the country is now ready to work with WTO members and is hoping to conclude the accession by the end of 2021.
Underlying the resumption of talks is a revised offer from Ethiopia. According to Mihretu in his speech in Geneva, 100% of tariff lines will now be covered on the day of accession, and the country is prepared to offer market access commitments for ten service sectors. In a subsequent interview with Fortune, the Minister also said that the Ethiopian negotiating team has offered to cut tariffs by up to 90% on traded goods. Lease financing is one of the ten service sectors on offer for greater market access, but no offer has yet been made in regard to the financial sector.
The Ethiopian negotiation team also started bilateral trade discussions with a number of WTO members on the sidelines of the Geneva meeting, including Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and the European Union.
The next steps of the process will be WTO members’ submission of comments and questions by 28 February 2020, which the WTO Secretariat will then incorporate into its ‘Elements of a Draft Working Party Report’. The Ethiopia delegation has also been asked to revise its relevant legislative action plan and to continue updating members about ongoing legislative reforms. The follow-up fifth meeting of the Working Party has been proposed for soon after the northern summer break.
Ethiopia has held observer status with the WTO since 1997. In 2003, it formally applied for accession. In 2006, it produced its Memorandum of Foreign Trade Regime, which was distributed to WTO members in January 2007, when negotiations for its accession began.
In the subsequent three rounds of Working Party meetings made before 2013, issues of agriculture, domestic laws, initial offers on goods, information on import licensing procedures and information on state trading enterprises were discussed. However, Ethiopia then paused the process for eight years, primarily over concerns about liberalising its banking and telecom sectors.
In June 2019, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, reactivated the process and formed a national committee of ten members to resume the accession procedure. Mamo Mihretu was appointed the Chair of the committee, and nine other members were selected from the National Bank, the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Plan and Development Commission, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and other governmental institutions.