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Timor-Leste joins the World Trade Organization

Accession to the global trade body marks a crucial step for the young island nation in developing and diversifying its economy.

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The government of Timor-Leste signed the accession protocol to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the culmination of nearly eight years of work, at the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi this week.

Timorese President José Ramos-Horta, and economic affairs minister Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, signed the document alongside the WTO’s director, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. At the ceremony, Ramos-Horta called his country’s accession to the WTO “an important step towards the liberalisation of trade, integration into the global economy and the facilitation of access to international markets.”

Other member states offered their congratulations to Timor-Leste, with the US praising the “enormous achievement” and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reiterating “Portugal’s unconditional support for the development of Timor-Leste” and nodding to the “potential for mutual cooperation yet to be explored”.

[See more: Timor-Leste and China sign major new agreements]

Timor-Leste, which established its sovereignty in 2002, began the long road to joining the WTO with its application in November 2016. A Working Group was established the next month and began meeting for negotiations in October 2020. Group chair Rui Macieira of Portugal noted last October that Timor-Leste had “the fastest moving dossier among the 24 ongoing accessions,” underscoring just how long the process can take.

Accession to the WTO has long been seen as a crucial step for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Timor-Leste, promising economic diversification and a reduction in poverty. The accessions of Timor-Leste and Comoros, an East African archipelago and fellow LDC, bring total WTO membership to 166.

The accession protocol will now go to the Timorese legislature for ratification.

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