Kazakhstan could complete WTO accession by year’s end, says WTO General Director

KAZAKHSTAN – Comments by World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Director Pascal Lamy may indicate that Kazakhstan’s long-standing bid to join the organisation could finally be accepted before the end of the year. Accession to the WTO has been a top priority for Kazakhstan’s foreign affairs since 1996, the time it began negotiating the accession with its trading partners.

“Kazakhstan is at an advanced stage of its accession negotiation. My guess is that this could be doable this year,” Lamy told reporters on the sidelines of the Gaidar Forum, an economic conference in Moscow. In the beginning of 2013, Lamy’s prognosis was promising, and many experts in Kazakhstan believed the country would accede to the WTO in the middle of the year.

Minister of Economic Integration Zhanar Aitzhanova, head WTO negotiator for Kazakhstan, had also hoped earlier this year that Kazakhstan would be able to join the organisation in the first half of the year. Now, all eyes are on the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Bali on Dec. 3-6, 2013, where Kazakhstan’s accession will be on the agenda.

“Maybe it will happen at the ninth WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, but much depends on the key players of the organisation,” said Russian Deputy Minister of Economic Development Alexei Likhachev.

Over the past several years, Kazakhstan has progressed in negotiations and is now at the final stage. Membership in the WTO would attract more foreign investment to Kazakhstan and is expected to boost the country’s economy. Trade Minister of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Andrey Slepnyov has said that “the possibilities of Kazakhstan’s producers to work within the WTO framework and use all the tools and privileges of this membership will help them improve competitiveness, which will also significantly improve the competitiveness of the Customs Union in general.” Slepnyov declined to talk about the possible risks for Russia and the Customs Union in connection with this decision, because “all the terms of accession are not yet clear,” he told reporters in Aug. 2013.

“The process of our accession has been ongoing for more than ten years. We have used all our efforts to join the WTO together with Russia. It would have been a little easier for us, in the context of the terms of trade, within the Customs Union framework,” Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said speaking in the Parliament of Kazakhstan on Oct. 16. “We had agreed on many tariff positions when negotiating WTO accession, before the Customs Union tariffs were established on our shared border. At this time our priority is to ensure that the current tariffs under the Customs Union would accord with the tariffs we have outlined during negotiations with WTO and the working group,” Idrissov explained.

Idrissov also underscored that Russia plays a vital role in the process as many of the understated tariffs negotiated within the framework of the Customs Union are priorities for Russian industries such as car manufacturing, aviation and agriculture.

Kazakhstan applied to join the WTO in 1996 and remains one of few countries still trying to become a member of the trade organisation.

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