Although more than 40 pieces of legislation need to be enacted before Cambodia can begin serious negotiations on World Trade Organization membership, the head of the world trading body said Tuesday he is hopeful Cambodia will gain accession within the next year.
WTO Director-General Mike Moore said Tuesday he “would be very disappointed” if Cambodia did not become a member within the next year. He said he wants to see Cambodia gain membership before he leaves his post on Sept 1, 2002.
“This could move as fast as you want it to. It is Cambodia’s decision,” Moore told reporters and government officials at a news conference.
“It is always difficult work, and there is much to be done….It is especially difficult when there is a vacuum [here] of public administration and public laws.”
Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said the government’s WTO Legislative Action Plan has more than 40 laws—which cover such topics as intellectual property rights, product standards and mechanisms for law enforcement and legal recourse—that are scheduled to be sent to parliament between now and 2004. Most of those laws will be debated by parliament in the next year, he said.
Cambodian officials have said they hope to gain membership by 2003. Cham Prasidh said earlier this year that Cambodia must join the WTO within five years or face economic marginalization.
Moore, a former New Zealand prime minister, arrived Monday night and met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Cham Prasidh. He left Tuesday night for Hong Kong.
Moore was given the Cambodian government’s written answers to 127 questions posed by WTO member nations. Moore said he would review the answers and send a written reply to Cham Prasidh by the end of this year outlining how quickly Cambodia could begin the next step.
Cham Prasidh said he would request that the next meeting of the international working group, made up of officials from WTO member nations who are reviewing Cambodia’s membership bid, be held in February. But Moore said that might be too early.
Moore said he would send the written answers to all 144 WTO members for their review. He pointed out that WTO accession is not a decision made by himself, but by member countries.
“It has to be unanimous. So you can imagine the complications when you have 144 members,” he said. “But Cambodia is serious, and it will happen eventually.”
WTO membership could help the country’s economy by allowing it to take advantage of lower tariffs and regulations enjoyed by member states. Each member is granted equal trade status along with a reduction of barriers to trade. It is the only global organization that deals with rules of trade among nations, as agreed upon by member countries.
In addition to trade benefits, Cambodia’s entry into the WTO would free it from the garment export system imposed by major importers, which the government claims slows Cambodia’s economic growth.
Economic observers have said numerous barriers must be removed before Cambodia can become a member of the WTO. Few of Cambodia’s laws meet WTO standards and the government must prove its commitment to reforming customs duties and trade regulations.
In July, a delegation of experts from six world organizations traveled to Cambodia to assess the country’s readiness to join the trade organization.
Cambodia first told the WTO of its desire to join in 1994 and submitted an application to the Geneva-based organization in mid-1999. Cambodian government officials attended the most recent WTO summit held earlier this month in Qatar.