Uzbekistan negotiation team on WTO accession holds experience sharing meetings on Belarus’ WTO accession journey

June 9, 2022
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Ahead of the 5th Working Party meeting on the accession of Uzbekistan to the World Trade Organization (WTO) scheduled for 21-22 June 2022, UNDP jointly with the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade organized a five-day capacity building event with key government agencies of Uzbekistan involved in the WTO accession process to learn about the WTO accession experience of Belarus.

A series of consultative meetings were organized between May 31 and June 4, 2022, in Tashkent, involving an international expert, Ms. Volha Kazakevich, a former member of the WTO accession team of Belarus. In total, ten experience sharing meetings were held with the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade, Ministry of Economy and Poverty Reduction, Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, Antimonopoly Committee, State Customs Committee, Sanitary-Epidemiological Welfare and Public Health Service, State Committee for Veterinary and Livestock Development, Agency for Quarantine and Plant Protection, and Agency for Technical Regulation. Consultative meetings were attended by a total of more than 100 government officials engaged in the WTO accession process of Uzbekistan.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

As part of the event, Ms. Kazakevich answered several questions on the role and tasks of government agencies in the work of the Negotiating Group, coordination among government agencies, approaches to effectively conduct negotiations at the WTO Secretariat, as well as multilateral and bilateral negotiations with WTO Member in the process of accession to the WTO, including negotiations on tariff concessions on agricultural goods and commitments on services.

Based on your experience in trade negotiations, how do you assess the importance of interagency coordination in a country's accession to the WTO?

- WTO accession process includes various issues that cover most economic sectors and trade-related regulations. Thus, it is crucial to ensure the participation of most government agencies and regulators in the negotiation process and, more importantly, in the implementation of reforms to bring legislation in compliance with WTO rules and obligations. Through effective inter-agency coordination, better results can be achieved in promoting mutual national interests and addressing challenges faced during the accession process. Moreover, the division of responsibilities on multiple issues within the framework of WTO accession will benefit inter-agency cooperation during the commitment implementation stage after becoming a WTO Member.

What did you focus on during the consultative meetings?

- When holding meetings, individual approach has been given to each ministry. Key areas of each government agency subject to WTO rules were discussed in detail, which allowed us to develop recommendations for the gradual elimination of practices that are inconsistent with WTO rules. In each agency we also tried to explain the notion of three main principles of the WTO: most-favoured nation treatment, national treatment and transparency. As the application of these principles is an unconditional obligation of each WTO Member, it was recommended to reflect such principles in current trade regulation reforms of Uzbekistan.

Talking about the principle of transparency, what actions need to be taken to comply with this WTO requirement?

- First and foremost, the acceding country has to be transparent in terms of providing information requested by WTO Members, such as translated versions of legal acts, procedural actions related to economic activities, and others. The information provided, in turn, is examined by WTO Members. If trade rules and practices are inconsistent with WTO principles, acceding countries are encouraged to take appropriate measures to fix them.

WTO Members also need to be transparent before the membership. For example, from time to time, all WTO Members must undergo review procedure of their trade policies under the WTO Trade Policy Review Mechanism. This requirement ensures a transparent, stable and predictable trading environment.

Bilateral negotiations with WTO Members on market access for goods and services are an integral part of WTO accession process. How, in your opinion, negotiation on market access in services shall be conducted?

- Indeed, trade in services is one of the bilateral tracks of the WTO accession process. Commitments in service sectors and their liberalization are seen as a driver for economic development and FDI inflows. Up to 70% of the final cost of products may consist of services such as distribution, transport, finance, rental, security, professional/business, etc. Thus, it is important to assess the possibilities of facilitating market access for foreign business, which, under certain conditions, may favourably influence the development of both domestic trade in services and production of goods.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Given the importance of agriculture for our country, what support measures may be available to Uzbekistan after acceding to the WTO?

- Taking into account the issues of food security, large number of people employed in this sector and other aspects, the issue of agricultural support is very relevant to the WTO. During the Uruguay round of negotiations, which lasted more than eight years, one of the key issues before the WTO creation was the consensus on the Agreement on Agriculture. A distinctive feature of this agreement is the possibility of state support for agriculture on terms agreed upon by the members of the organization.

For example, on the flight to Tashkent, I was impressed by the view of the Aral Sea and the desert area that covers most of the territory of Uzbekistan. The tragedy of the Aral Sea has certainly created unfavorable conditions for rural life in that region due to polluted air and difficulties with crop cultivation. I would like to note that environmental protection and regional development programs elaborated in compliance with the Green Box of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture can be widely utilized to support rural areas in the affected Aral Sea region.

Ms. Kazakevich also reviewed and made recommendations on accession-related documentary inputs of Uzbekistan submitted to the WTO, such as Factual Summary of Points Raised, Questions and Replies, Domestic Support and Export Subsidies in the Agricultural Sector, Questionnaire on State-Trading, Legislative Action Plan, Market Access Offer in Services.

Given the significant progress of Belarus in the WTO accession process and the similarity of its economic policy with that of Uzbekistan, it is expected that their WTO accession experience would be of particular use in the course of bilateral and multilateral negotiations with WTO Members within the 5th Working Party meeting on the Accession of Uzbekistan to the WTO.

To recall, Uzbekistan held its last Working Party meeting on the accession to the WTO on 7 July 2020 – almost two years ago. In order to finalize the accession process, the Government of Uzbekistan is expected to, among others, complete the Working Party Report, conclude bilateral agreements with interested WTO Members on market access in goods and services, and bring the country’s legislation and practices in line with WTO rules.

The ‘Aid for Trade in Uzbekistan’ project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan and aimed to support Uzbekistan’s WTO accession process, developing trade, building productive and export capacities for niche products in employment-rich and potentially green sectors to contribute to more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable growth patterns.