Countries and separate customs territories seeking to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) must negotiate the terms of their accession with current Members, as provided for in Article XII of the WTO Agreement, which states:
“...any state or separate customs territory possessing full autonomy in the conduct of its external commercial relations and of the other matters provided for in this Agreement and the Multilateral Trade Agreements may accede to this Agreement, on terms to be agreed between it and the WTO...”
The accession process, with its emphasis on implementation of WTO provisions and the establishment of stable and predictable market access for goods and services, provides a proven framework for adoption of policies and practices that encourage trade and investment and promote growth and development. The accession process strengthens the international trading system by ensuring that new Members understand and implement WTO rules from the outset.
The process also offers current Members the opportunity to secure market access opportunities from acceding countries, to work with acceding Members towards full implementation of WTO obligations, and to address outstanding trade issues covered by the WTO in a multilateral context.
During 2012, four additoinal countries became WTO Member: Montenegro, The Russian Federation, Samoa, and Vanuatu. In addition, two applicants for WTO accession had their terms of accession were approved by the General Council: Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and the Republic of Tajikistan. Their accession packages were approved on October 26 and December 10, respectively by the WTO General Council. The packages approved by the General Council will be submitted to their domestic authorities for acceptance/ratification, and Membership in the WTO will follow 30 days after the WTO receives the instrument of ratification accepting the terms of accession. Both are expected to be Members by mid-2013.
Since the WTO came into existence in 1995, the following twenty nine countries and separate customs territories have acceded pursuant to full negotiations under Article XII:
Date of Membership
September 8, 2000
February 5, 2003
December 1, 1996
October 13, 2004
July 23, 2008
December 11, 2001
January 1, 2002
November 30, 2000
January 21, 1996
November 13, 1999
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
April 4, 2003
June 14, 2000
April 11, 2000
December 20, 1998
February 10, 1999
May 31, 2001
July 26, 2001
January 29, 1997
April 23, 2004
November 9, 2000
September 6, 1997
August 22, 2012
May 10, 2012
December 11, 2005
July 27, 2007
May 16, 2008
August 24, 2012
January 11, 2007
In addition, the WTO has initiated accession negotiations by creating Working Parties for 24 countries, which are at various stages of the negotiating process:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sao Tome and Principe
The WTO Accession Process
After receiving a letter requesting accession to the WTO, the General Council considers the appropriateness of the request and decides by consensus whether to establish a Working Party (WP), composed of interested WTO Members, to conduct the negotiations and to develop the terms of the applicant’s accession to the WTO.
The accession applicant submits a description of its trade regime to the Working Party, called a “Memorandum on Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR).” WP members review this document and submit questions about it, focusing on areas where the current trade regime does not appear consistent with the provisions of the WTO. The Working Party meets several times to review applicant responses and additional information developed at each subsequent meeting.
During WP meetings, Members conduct a detailed review of the applicant’s entire trade regime, identifying measures in place that do not conform to WTO rules, as well as the areas where legislation will be necessary to implement WTO Agreements. The results of the WP discussions are compiled in a Report of the Working Party that includes a record of the issues discussed, the points raised by members and how the issues will be resolved.
The draft Protocol of Accession, for ultimate adoption by the General Council, is attached to the WP report. It lists specific substantive commitments made by the applicant during the negotiation to eliminate existing WTO-inconsistent measures and to make necessary legislative changes to implement WTO institutional and regulatory requirements. Acceding countries generally implement WTO rules before the Working Party concludes its work.
The Working Party reviews domestic implementing legislation and regulations to ensure that the WTO rules are being properly incorporated. The Working Party also seeks to identify areas where technical assistance can be productively utilized.
In addition to the Working Party report and Protocol of Accession, the terms of accession also require bilateral negotiations for market access of goods and services. Applicants are expected to undertake trade liberalizing specific commitments on market access for industrial and agricultural goods, agricultural domestic supports and export subsidies, and trade in services.
The terms of accession developed with Working Party Members in bilateral and multilateral negotiations are recorded in an accession “protocol package” that includes:
a Report of the Working Party and draft Protocol of Accession with commitments on the implementation of WTO rules;
a schedule consolidating all the specific commitments made in bilateral negotiations on market access for goods;
a schedule consolidating all the specific commitments made in bilateral negotiations on market access for services; and
specific commitments on the use of agricultural domestic supports and export subsidies.
The Working Party reviews the completed four elements of the protocol package (the terms of accession) and seeks to adopt the package by consensus, i.e., with no objection from any Member. It then transmits the package to the WTO Ministerial Conference, or to the General Council acting on its behalf, with a recommendation that the applicant be invited to accede to the World Trade Organization. General Council or Ministerial Conference approval is also by consensus, notwithstanding that there are provisions in the WTO Agreement for voting on accessions.
The process has no fixed schedule for completion. The discussion may require a number of meetings over several years, depending on how quickly the applicant moves to change its laws to eliminate WTO-inconsistent measures and to implement WTO Agreements.
U.S. Participation in the Accession Process
As a matter of course, the United States takes a leadership role in all aspects of WTO accessions, including bilateral, plurilateral, and multilateral negotiations. The objective is to ensure that new Members implement WTO provisions and to encourage trade liberalization, as well as to use the opportunities provided in these negotiations to expand market access for U.S. exports.
The United States provides a broad range of technical assistance to countries seeking accession to the WTO to help them meet the requirements and challenges presented, both by the negotiations and the process of implementing WTO provisions in their trade regimes. This assistance is provided through USAID, USDA and the Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It can include short-term technical expertise focused on specific issues, e.g., customs procedures, intellectual property rights protection, or technical barriers to trade, and/or a WTO expert in residence in the acceding country or customs territory.
A number of WTO Members that have completed their accession negotiations since 1995 received technical assistance in their accession process from the United States: Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic, Lao PDR, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
Current accession applicants to which the United States is currently providing, or has at one time or another in the past provided, technical assistance include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Serbia, Uzbekistan and Yemen.