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CAMBODIA MEMBERSHIP NEGOTIATIONS 14 NOVEMBER 2002
Cambodia aims for membership by Cancún meeting

Cambodia’s bid to join the WTO has moved into a final phase following a meeting of its WTO Accession Working Party on 14 November 2002. The Secretariat has been asked to draft the working party’s report in time for a meeting in the spring of 2003.

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THIS IS AN UNOFFICIAL SUMMARY OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MEETING, PREPARED BY THE WTO SECRETARIAT’S INFORMATION AND MEDIA RELATIONS DIVISION TO HELP PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING. IT IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORD.

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Cambodia and WTO members in the working party said they aim to complete the membership deal by the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, 10–14 September 2003.

That could make Cambodia the first least-developed country to join the WTO since its creation in 1995. It would also comply with instructions ministers gave to their negotiators at the previous ministerial conference in Doha, November 2001. The Doha Declaration says: “We agree to work to facilitate and accelerate negotiations with acceding LDCs” (paragraph 42).

 
The meeting

The head of the Cambodian delegation, State Secretary Sok Siphana, described developments since the last meeting in February (2002). The Cambodian economy is performing quite well, 17 laws and draft economic laws have been supplied to WTO members, a draft civil and civil procedural code has recently been completed, trademark protection is being enforced, and Cambodia has been able to mobilize “substantial” technical assistance under the Integrated Framework (involving the WTO and a number of other international organizations) to enable it to comply with WTO obligations. Bilateral negotiations are also taking place, including, discussions on the fringes of the working party’s meeting in Geneva, as well as past and future negotiations in Phnom Penh.

“It is our hope that Cambodia can realize its dream at the Fifth WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancún next year,” the Cambodian delegation head said.

ASEAN members of the WTO strongly backed a swift conclusion to bring fellow-member Cambodia into the WTO. The ASEAN countries urged developed countries not to make tough demands since Cambodia is a least-developed country. Djibouti and Haiti, both LDCs, and China echoed the sentiment. Developed countries said they would be flexible.

 
Some of the issues

Questions mainly came from Australia, US, EU, Chinese Taipei and Japan. Further questions will be submitted in writing.

Transition: working party members are prepared to allow Cambodia transition periods for implementing some obligations. The US asked Cambodia to be specific on the timetable for these transition periods (end-point and milestones along the way). While accepting that the transition could include some intellectual property (TRIPS) provisions, the US said this should not include areas where Cambodia already complies with TRIPS and basic TRIPS principles such as non-discrimination (MFN and national treatment).

Laws and legal system: Australia and the US asked for a roadmap showing when Cambodia envisages remaining legislation will be enacted. The US asked when Cambodia intends to set up commercial courts — the currently-used common courts lack expertise in commercial issues. Cambodia took note, adding that the civil code will take some time because consultation is needed under its democratic system. As an interim measure, before commercial courts are fully established, Cambodia is using technical assistance to train judges in commercial and other specialist issues, the delegation said.

Agriculture: Australia and the US said they expected Cambodia to bind its export subsidies at zero, since at present it has no export subsidies. Australia also urged Cambodia not to convert tariffs into tariff quotas, which are more complex and less transparent (Cambodia has said it is considering introducing tariff quotas).

 
Next

Bilateral meetings will continue. The chairperson said he hopes most of the outstanding points will be cleared up at the next working party meeting, possibly in March or April. “It’s a hope. Of course much will depend on the negotiations”.

 
Background

Working party members: Australia, Canada, China, European Union and member states, India , Japan, Korea, Republic of, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, Venezuela

Chairperson: Andrea Meloni (Italy)

Cambodia’s working party was established on 21 December 1994. Cambodia submitted a memorandum on its foreign trade regime in June 1999. Replies to questions concerning the memorandum were circulated in January 2001. Bilateral market access negotiations are being conducted in Geneva and Phnom Penh. The 14 November 2002 meeting was the working party’s third. It marked an advancement of the accession process because for the first time members focused on the elements of a draft working party report and, thereby, concentrated on agreeing Cambodia’s terms of entry.