Ministers Approve Move Towards the WTO

Cambodia moved a little further down the long road to joining the World Trade Organ­ization Friday when the Council of Ministers approved a report requested by the WTO on the country’s trading system.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said it is “crucial” that Cambodia gain entrance to the WTO, a move that would go a long way to integrating the country’s economy into the global market. He noted that China, one of the world’s most powerful nations, also wants to join the organization.

“So we must achieve it. It is our last goal,” the premier said. “Our meeting today is very important.”

Hun Sen said the government has done a fairly good job at solving internal issues in preparation for WTO accession. Now that the country has achieved peace and reconciliation, he said, the government can focus on integrating with the international community.

Penn Thol, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, showed reporters the papers holding the 107 answers to a WTO questionnaire. He would not let reporters read the text of the answers, but he said some questions asked about Cambodia’s customs duties and intellectual property rights.

Cambodia first told the WTO of its desire to join in 1994 and submitted an application to the Gen­eva-based organization in mid-1999. WTO members res­ponded by sending Cambodia the questionnaire on its trading system.

In May, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh led a delegation of more than 30 officials to Geneva for two weeks of negotiations on Cambodia’s WTO candidacy. Officials will likely go to Geneva again at the end of the year.

The WTO has more than 130 member nations from both industrialized and developing countries. Members are guaranteed Most Favored Nation status in the WTO community and is free from any trade discrimination.

In addition to free trade benefits, Cambodia’s entry into the WTO would free it from the garment export quota system im­posed by major importers, which the government claims slows Cambodia’s economic growth.

Economic observers have said that 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.

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