It’s time to accelerate

Belarus returns to negotiating process on joining World Trade Organization

By Yulia Ivieva

“We hope that our joint work with the UNDP and its support will help accelerate Belarus’ ability to join the WTO, becoming a fully-fledged member of this international trade system,” noted Alexander Gurianov, Belarus’ Deputy Foreign Minister, speaking at an international round table discussion dedicated to Belarus’ joining of the WTO.

Initially, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan were planning to join the WTO together as a Customs Union. However, each state has its own degree of readiness. For example, Russia can become a member this year while our country has far to go, with trade contracts signed with ten countries. Negotiations are underway with 12 states and any of the 153 WTO member countries can announce its interest in bilateral relations. Of course, it’s logical that if one of our trio enters the WTO, the others should also join.

On one hand, joining this organisation would further liberalise trade relations. However, WTO membership isn’t a goal in itself. Some states have received a ‘pass’ within 24 hours, yet their national interests have been sacrificed, bringing negative results. It’s vital for Belarus to join under its own terms.

How will this be co-ordinated with the Customs Union? The Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Scientific-Industrial Association, analyst Georgy Grits, notes that Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan have come to an agreement regarding all commodity positions. “Each state is holding its own negotiations, setting common conditions; accordingly our decision to enter separately is correct. One drop wears away a stone while three drops are much more efficient. Our three presidents have clearly outlined that the Single Economic Space will be based on WTO principles. This means that if one country, such as Russia, joins the organisation earlier than the other two, it won’t affect our work within the Single Economic Space.”

He is confident that the WTO needs reforming and notes that its founder — the EU — is now turning away from WTO principles. Mr. Grits explains, “Relations between the EU and Russia and the EU and Ukraine are being initiated with trade barriers applied: tariffs and quotas. This is because the world economy cannot follow one set of rules, even though it established them itself. Leading countries are becoming uncompetitive and China’s joining of the WTO has led to bankruptcy for thousands of light industry enterprises in Europe. The USA and the EU are thus trying to vary rules relating to individual countries and regions.

In November, Belarus should complete its general report, enabling WTO members to learn about changes to our legislation (especially those relating to foreign trade). The negotiation process will then continue.

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