Trade Minister Gebremeskel Chala and his delegation met with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in Geneva

Ethiopia Prepares to Resume its WTO Accession Process

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia is set to resume the accession process to the World Trade Organization (WTO) after a three-year pause.

Ethiopia’s newly appointed chief negotiator and Trade Minister Gebremeskel Chala held his first discussion with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on ways to effectively conclude the accession process.

Gebremeskel, who recently became Ethiopia’s Chief Negotiator, affirmed his country’s strong commitment to conclude the accession negotiation.

According to the minister, his first meeting with the WTO chief covered key areas for preparation ahead of the formal resumption of the accession process.

“We discussed basic points,” he said, ranging from capacity building and negotiating with member countries to preparing accession-related documents and submission.

“In this regard, the Director-General gave us directions on how to go about it,” he added.

Ethiopia’s WTO membership negotiation has been inactive since the 2020 fourth Accession Working Party meeting in Geneva.

The government reignited its WTO membership bid this year. In May, the Ethiopian delegation informed the WTO of the appointment of the new Chief negotiator and that technical work was underway to prepare for the 5th meeting of the Working Party.

WTO chief pledges support

WTO Director-General Ngozi welcomed Ethiopia’s “renewed interest and readiness” to work for the WTO accession.

“Ethiopia is such an important country on the continent of Africa and the fact that they are embarking on this process is a very very good thing,” the Director-General said.

“We are really happy prime minister Abiy Ahmed has made this possible for Ethiopia to resume the process for the WTO accession,” she said shortly after her meeting with Trade Minister Gebremeskel.

The discussion with the Ethiopian delegation was focused on “how to go about it, the challenges and possibilities,” the Director-General said. “We will be working hand in hand with them to make the process move smoothly.”

For Ethiopia to accede to the WTO, the Geneva-based organization’s website says, all members have to agree on the terms. This is done through the establishment of a working party of WTO members and a process of negotiations.

The WTO appointed Ambassador Rebecca Lamb of the United Kingdom as chair for Ethiopia’s Accession Working Party in March.

“Stop and start”

Ethiopia’s interest to be part of the WTO is almost as old as the organization itself. The country applied to the WTO for observer status in 1997, when the WTO was just two years old.

It began its accession process on 16 May 2008 with the Accession Working Party meeting in Geneva. The process was put on hold by the Government in 2012.

After an eight-year pause, Ethiopia resumed its WTO accession process in January 2020 with another Working Party meeting. The objective was to advance and finalize the membership process by the end of 2021. The process, however, became inactive again.

This time, Trade Minister and current chief negotiator Gebremeskel vowed to put “the stop and start” cycle to an end.

“We will do our best” to finalize the process in a continuous manner, the trade minister insisted. “This is the commitment of my government”.