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BusinessEthiopia's WTO bid hits critical juncture

Ethiopia’s WTO bid hits critical juncture

Eyes long-awaited WTO entry in 2024

After two decades of delays and setbacks, Ethiopia is gearing up for a pivotal meeting that could finally win the east African nation entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Officials say Ethiopia’s decisive fifth working party meeting with the WTO – scheduled by March or April 2024 – marks a critical moment in the country’s struggling bid to join the global trade body.

Ethiopia first applied back in 2003 but has only managed four working group sessions with WTO members so far.

Now, under the leadership of chief negotiator and Trade Minister, Gebremeskel Challa, Addis Ababa is rolling up its sleeves with accession expected to resume in eight months.

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The last working group meeting was held in January 2020, led by Mamo Mihretu, the current governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) and the former chief negotiator.

WTO members, according to Tages Mulugeta, International and Regional Trade Integration acting lead executive at the Trade Ministry, barraged Ethiopian officials with questions. He says the members raised about 181 questions on policy reforms and compliance with WTO standards, which need detailed explanations.

Ethiopian negotiators will present responses detailing regulatory changes at the fifth working party meeting, tentatively set for March or April 2024.

“There are several technical activities we have to do,” Tages told The Reporter. “Some of the questions raised were related to the goods offer, requesting us to decrease the tariff on goods.”

An Ethiopian delegation recently traveled to the WTO headquarters in Geneva to lay the groundwork for the east African nation’s pivotal meeting next year.

The team included Gebremeskel, State Minister Kassahun Gofe, and Tages, along with other officials from the Trade Ministry as well as the Ethiopian Ambassador to Switzerland, Tsegab Kebebew. The delegation met with WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and UK diplomat Rebecca Fisher Lamb, chair of Ethiopia’s accessions working group.

The main purpose of the trip, according to Tages, is for the chief negotiator and other members of the team to meet with the WTO heads and familiarize themselves with the negotiation processes.

Gebremeskel says he is now familiar with the accession process and negotiations “to make preparations and submit quality documents” for the crucial meeting.

The WTO team agreed on a roadmap for the resumption of the talks, and work to start immediately, according to a social media post by Maika Oshikawa, director of Accession Division at the WTO.

“The Director General gave us direction on how to go about it and to work on our homework not to start and stop, but to be non-stop,” Gebremeskel said.

The team also sought technical and financial backing from partners like the European Investment Fund to ready Ethiopia’s case.

To date, detailed discussions on Ethiopia’s service sector offer have been put off till the next working group meeting, officials say.

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