BAKU: Road To WTO Full Of Challenges

ROAD TO WTO FULL OF CHALLENGES

AzerNews Weekly, Azerbaijan
April 13 2006

Prospects for Azerbaijan’s joining the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and economic development were in focus at the event, “The World Trade
Network and Azerbaijan,” in Baku last Wednesday.

Addressing the meeting, Emil Majidov, president of the Azerbaijan
Export & Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO) organizing the
event, said local entrepreneurs were poorly aware of WTO and the
discussions targeted briefing the participants on the economic
processes ongoing around the world.

Deputy Economic Development Minister Mikayil Jabbarov said an
action plan had been prepared for local businessmen on Azerbaijan’s
forthcoming accession to WTO. The country is currently experiencing
a stage that is pivotal for its admission to the organization, he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister and chairman of the taskforce on WTO
admission, Mahmud Mammadguliyev, reminded that Azerbaijan has held
the status of observer in WTO since talks on its admission started
in 1997. The next round of talks is due in late 2006-early 2007,
Mammadguliyev said. Four meetings of the joint taskforce have
been held thus far, with the first two focusing on foreign trade
regulations, while full-scale negotiations on WTO admission started
in 2005. The separate discussions with other countries center on
the access of foreign goods and services to Azerbaijan’s markets,
while multi-lateral talks aim to support agriculture and export
subsidies in this sector. The WTO requires that common regulations
be introduced for both imported and local commodities and services,
including equal excise rates. Mammadguliyev said customs duties are
a key measure to protect the domestic market and Azerbaijan should do
its best to ensure suitable conditions for local producers. The deputy
minister told reporters after the discussions that the government
will do its utmost to ensure that Azerbaijan is admitted to WTO
with a status of a developing country, which will provide certain
concessions, in particular, on the agricultural sector. The talks to
that end have already started and the needed arguments submitted to
the WTO secretariat for consideration, Mammadguliyev said. “During
the comprehensive discussions, Malaysia and Australia supported our
admission with this status. But the United States and the European
Union avoided comment. We will further work to make sure that the USA
and EU back our stance.” Mammadguliyev said the U.S. and EU suggest
that the services sector be liberalized to promote foreign investments
in the Azeri economy and open jobs. The activities include expanding
markets in finance, communications and distributor services. He
said that in spite of lucrative advantages in the WTO membership,
the country should focus on protecting its own interests.

“Our position aims to ensure further development of the country,
therefore, we will dwell upon national interests during the talks. We
should reach a compromise that would suit both the EU and USA, and
Azerbaijan.” The Foreign Ministry official continued that one of the
priority issues for WTO admission is improving laws, as this is at
the core of the recommendations made to the country. “The legislative
improvements should be enacted over two years at the most, as the
completion of talks and subsequent WTO admission will depend on this,”
he said, adding that although the issue is regularly raised during the
talks, WTO is still concerned over the lack of such changes. Touching
upon the possible obstacles that may be posed by WTO member state
Armenia, with which Azerbaijan faces the long-standing conflict over
Upper (Nagorno) Garabagh, Mammadguliyev said this is not likely. “Upon
its admission, Armenia assumed a commitment not to veto Azerbaijan’s
inception,” he said. The deputy minister said any talks with Armenia
on the matter are certainly out of the question, as the two countries
maintain no ties. Mammadguliyev told the press earlier that Armenia’s
admission to the WTO prior to that of Azerbaijan is due to the fact
this country started relevant talks four years earlier, in 1993. He
added that countries’ accession mainly depends not on their economic
indicators, but on how fast they fulfill their obligations to the
organization.

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