Are there different rules for least-developed countries in a rule-based system?

In July 2012, the WTO General Council agreed on a set of new and improved guidelines to facilitate and accelerate negotiations on the accession to the WTO of least-developed countries (LDCs). The process of acceding to the WTO is complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive for candidate countries, and for LDCs, which have limited institutional and administrative capacity, in particular. The WTO accession process is very much a political process, and requires countries to undertake far-reaching domestic reforms in order to be in a position to implement WTO rules from day one of membership, as well as to benefit from MFN market access from WTO members and vice versa. The prolonged accession process is designed to enable acceding LDCs (and others) to acquire the knowledge and expertise to negotiate not only the terms and conditions for their membership, but also to function as viable members of the rules-based system. This chapter examines the enhanced guidelines and asks whether the WTO needs to improve the procedures for the benefit of LDCs and of the WTO. It examines how the WTO accession process and procedures, as well as the scope of the reforms it requires, compare to EU considerations in the process of its enlargement, and argues that, while the enhanced LDC accession guidelines have made an important contribution, some additional steps may need to be contemplated in the future. However, before a further enhancement is contemplated, it must be understood that the accession process, and the substance of WTO accession negotiations, in all serious institutions, are based on a partnership. This is a fundamental lesson from all successfully completed accessions and enlargement processes. The process is neither unilateral nor automatic.

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