Ethiopia’s plans to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in less than two years could be delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Minister of Trade and industry, Melaku Alebel, told The Reporter this week that discussions and further talks on accession have been halted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ethiopia’s accession to the WTO has been underway since 2003. The country had renewed its dormant WTO accession process through Working Party meetings at the WTO Secretariate in 2019 and in early 2020.
Melaku said that most of the work on the Ethiopian side has been completed; further noting that many international organizations are not working and documents that should have been reviewed and signed by the WTO and other institutions have not been finalized as per the schedule due to the pandemic.
“WTO is highly interested in having Ethiopia as its member,” said the Minister, adding that work is already underway to make up for the pandemic’s effect on schedule.
The Minister further indicated that strong national interest issues associated with the identification of sectors to open up or not are behind Ethiopia’s lengthy engagement with the WTO.
‘Ethiopia does not plan to open up its market at once; some market segments will be opened later than others,’ said Melaku. He also urged members of the trade and manufacturing sectors to scale-up their production and supply capacity to compete globally.
“As Ethiopia transcends from the local and regional economic zone to a more complicated international arena, it needs broader trading perspectives fitting the international market,” said the Minister.
In this regard, strong dialogue and negotiations are important to safeguard the country’s interests and economic rights, he underscored.
The Minister also anticipates the approval of the revised draft commercial law, which was recently approved by the Council of Ministers. The current commercial law has been in effect since 1952.
The new law, which is expected to be approved this year, puts into account various regional and international conditions that would complement Ethiopia’s bid for WTO accession, he added.
Furthermore, Melaku said the new law is designed to make Ethiopia more competitive.