The WTO website reports that yesterday, after depositing its Instrument of Acceptance with Director General Roberto Azevedo, Yemen confirmed its membership terms and became the 160th country (and 7th Least Developed Country)to do so. Officially, Yemen will be granted the status of a WTO member on the 26th of June. The list of its commitments can be accessed here.
The constitutional process in the country, with respect to such acceptance is a multi-stepped process. It begins with an approval by the cabinet of ministers, followed by the parliament’s consent. The last step is that the proposal is handed to the President (currently, Mr. Abd Rabbuh Manṣûr Hâdî) for final signatures. This system, along with the WTO’s own processes (including the Working Party’s report), took up over 14 years. Yemen would fully implement the Customs Valuation Agreement by 31 December 2016.
Supports of the current system, as long-drawn and tedious as it can be, say that it facilitates better understanding on both sides. The new member has an opportunity to better understand its obligations and learn from the experiences of other nations who may have gone through a similar history. On the other hand, it provides the existing members an opportunity to understand the investment opportunities and economic difficulties that the new member brings along. Though it takes several slow years to get through with it, in the end, it essentially results in mutual benefit.
In terms of internal politics, the world is beginning to see the new face of Yemen. A new constitution is being written and the people of the Arab nation would be aiming to take full advantage of this new platform of economic growth. It would also help the nation integrate in the international system, in general. It is note worthy that it has already begun making waves: its main trading partners include China, EU and India.
The West-Asian country, with a GDP of $35.65 million, would be looking to benefit from the revised LDC accession guidelines which were released by the WTO’s General Council in mid-2012. These were intended to further facilitate the smoothening the process of accession for LDCs by supplementing the 2002 guidelines. Though some feel that the 2012 guidelines helped by providing a framework in the agricultural sector (Yemen would bind its agricultural export subsidies at zero upon accession), the same amount of structuring was not mirrored in the services sector.
However, there are some major issues that need to be addressed. In a previous interview with the Yemen Times, legal expert on trade, Sami Al-Siri, said that whether Yemen benefits from the accession will depend on the country’s capacity to negotiate with other member states and its ability to comprehend conventions. Discouraging signs emerge from a report of the nation’s Social and Economic Development Research Center which stressed that Yemeni businessmen have little or no knowledge of WTO policies and that even the national trading policy is still only in a developing stage. The WTO family has assured the new member that “Yemen’s voice will be as powerful as any other member”, though there has been criticism that behind the shadow of the LDC-tag, Yemen is practising unfair protectionism in the IP and Services sectors.
The nation has tried to defend its situation by stating that every country must be given the exclusive right to determine as to what type of, and to what extent, trade would be healthy for it. Complaining of the curse of limited resources, it requested that nations like Ukraine, a nation with which trade talks did not go very smoothly, should make “reasonable” demands from the LDCs which have very little to offer. According to Sana’a, the trading community’s attitude should be one of understanding and comity as it is still reeling from the effects of the Arab Spring.
On that point, it must be mentioned that another major stumbling block for development, as can be seen in various pockets of that region, is that politics (as well as the army) invariably and unfailingly plays spoil sport. Yet, one cannot reject the argument that this step is one towards the realization of the goal of universal membership.