The Ethiopian government has set 2026 as a deadline for its decades-old effort to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Official documents obtained by The Reporter reveal that around half of the preparations necessary for accession have been finalized, with officials planning to go two-thirds of the way by the end of this year.
The preparations include 181 separate queries and demands from WTO member countries. According to the report from the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration, the federal government is re-aligning legislation based on the requests.
Officials are “revising avenues for goods and services” and “finalizing negotiation documents”, according to the document.
Once these preparations, along with responses to the demands from WTO members, are wrapped up, the proposal will be tabled to the national negotiation affairs steering committee for approval. Officials foresee this will happen in the upcoming quarter.
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Ethiopia is among the countries that have been on the WTO waiting list for an extended period of time. The country initially placed a formal request for accession exactly 20 years ago in 2003, but progress has faltered since.
Following a halt in the quest for accession, negotiations resumed in 2020. During the fourth WTO meeting that year, member countries unanimously voiced support for Ethiopia’s bid.
In the past, Ethiopia’s unwillingness to open the financial and telecom sectors was quoted as the major obstacle in its pursuit for WTO membership.
Telecom opened up when Safaricom Ethiopia won an 850 million dollar operator license in 2021, and the federal government has pledged to allow foreign investment in the financial sector in the near future. Officials hope this will accelerate the accession process.
The WTO is only one of several trade agreements on the agenda as the federal government continues its aggressive push for the expansion of international trade. Ethiopia was recently invited to join the BRICS trade bloc. A number of bilateral agreements as well as accession to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) are also a priority.
Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that long overdue initial tariff offers for trade under the AfCFTA have been submitted.
As one of the earliest signatories and ratifiers of the AfCFTA in 2018, Ethiopia has demonstrated its commitment to realizing the agreement, says the Ministry. Its tariff offers fulfill a key requirement under the Protocol on Trade in Goods.
There are plans to submit an AfCFTA implementation strategy to the AfCFTA secretariat this year.
Foreign affairs officials are also preparing bilateral trade negotiation documents with India, Brazil, the UAE, China, South Africa, and Nigeria, among others.
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