Ethiopia, WTO Discuss Preparation To Restart Accession Negotiations

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia and the World Trade Organization (WTO) took stock of works in preparation for resumption of WTO accession negotiations.

The East African nation is expected to restart its WTO membership talks in the coming months after three years of pause.

Director of the WTO Accession Division, Maika Oshikawa visited Addis Ababa this week in a bid to advance the accession process.

Mesganu Arga, State Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chief Negotiator for WTO Accession, was the first to meet the director.

The two sides discussed technical works related to Ethiopia’s membership bid and ways to expedite the process, the Foreign ministry said in a statement.

During the discussion, Mesganu reiterated the government’s strong political will and readiness to expedite Ethiopia’s accession to the organization expressing its desire for the technical negotiations to be completed speedily.

“Joining the WTO is a pivotal aspect of Ethiopia’s economic reform agenda,” Mesganu told the Director, adding his country, being a major economic player in Sub-Saharan Africa, would significantly enhance the WTO’s stature by becoming a member.

He also highlighted the “significant policy amendments and radical decisions” that the government has taken in trade and finance sectors to assist the accession process.

Ethiopia reignited its WTO membership bid in May last year with the appointment of Trade and Regional Integration Minister Gebremeskel Chala as its chief negotiator for WTO accession.

The WTO secretariat is providing assistance required to speed up the accession process, noted Director Oshikawa during her meeting with Mesganu, and pledged to continue the support.

Last Dec, the National Steering Committee also approved the draft documentary inputs for the accession working party which last met in January 2020.

Director Oshikawa said she came to Addis Ababa with the aim, “together with the committee, to finalize documents for the Working Party to resume its work in the coming months.”

Oshikawa also met with Chief Negotiator Gebremeskel and took stock of work in preparation for the fifth Working Party meeting.

“Grateful for his leadership in advancing domestic preparation, both on political and technical fronts,” the director said in a message posted on social media X.

Ethiopia’s interest to be a member is almost as old as the organization itself. It applied for observer status in 1997 when the WTO was just two years old.

The country began its accession process on 16 May 2008 with the Accession Working Party meeting in Geneva. The process was put on hold by the Government in 2012.

After an eight-year pause, Ethiopia resumed its WTO accession process in Jan 2020 with another Working Party meeting. The goal was to advance and finalize the membership process by the end of 2021. The process, however, became inactive again.

This time, current chief negotiator Gebremeskel said during his first meeting with the WTO director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in July, the aim was to put “the stop and start” cycle to an end.

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