WTO Group Puts Cambodia In Line for 2003 Membership

Cambodia is likely to become the first “least-developed country” to join the World Trade Organ­ization, scheduled for probable accession to the world body in Sep­tember 2003, the WTO an­nounced last week.

Cambodia, represented by Min­istry of Commerce Secretary of State Sok Siphana, met with the WTO members that are working on its accession bid on Thursday in Geneva, thus moving into a “final phase” toward ac­cession, the site states.

“Cambodia and WTO members in the working party said they aim to complete the membership deal by the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference,” scheduled for Cancun, Mexico, from Sept 10 to Sept 14.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, who did not attend last week’s meeting, said he has been in­formed that the talks “went well.”

“All the member countries seem very supportive of our ac­cession. They were very accommodating of our position,” the minister said on Sunday.

Other so-called LDCs are currently members of the 145-nation WTO, but they were given automatic entry when the organization was created out of the Gen­eral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1995.

Last year, bringing LDCs into the WTO became a stated goal of the organization.

“Cambodia is a role model for other least-developed countries,” Cham Prasidh said.

“We have lib­er­alized quite a lot; we have opened our economy to the outside world,” Cham Prasidh added.

Cambodia is one of three WTO ap­plicant countries to benefit from the “Integrated Frame­work,” a pilot program to help LDCs develop the legislation and enact the reforms the WTO re­quires. The other two nations are Mad­agascar and Mauritania.

Since beginning the application process in 1994, Cambodia has passed numerous laws in order to meet WTO demands.

At the Geneva meeting, the 15-member working party agreed to be flexible on some tough re­quirements but pushed Cambo­dia for specifics, according to the Web site.

Most of the questions, it noted, came from Australia, the US, Taiwan and Japan.

As for how long a “transition period” Cambodia will be allowed in order to implement some ob­ligations gradually, the US “[ac­cepted] that the transition could include some intellectual property…provisions,” but “asked Cam­bo­dia to be specific on the timetable.”

The US noted that Cambodia must also eventually set up “commercial courts” to settle business disputes, since the current judiciary lacks specialized expertise.

The Cambodians responded that this will take some time; in the meantime, judges are being trained in commercial law.

The US and Australia also re­quested that Cambodia refrain from creating export subsidies or tariff quotas, neither of which are currently in place.

The working party is scheduled to meet next in March or April, the Web site states.


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