Belarus stressed its strong commitment to conclude WTO accession negotiations by the 12th Ministerial Conference, which will take place in June 2020 in Astana, Kazakhstan. At the 11th meeting of the Working Party on the Accession of Belarus on 15 February, members commended Belarus’ efforts to bring its trade regime in conformity with WTO rules but underlined that significant progress will be needed if such an ambitious target is to be met. The meeting was the fourth since the resumption of the Working Party process in January 2017.
H.E. Mr. Andrei Yeudachenka, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, led a 30-person delegation in Geneva which included deputy ministers of the Ministries of Justice, Anti-monopoly Regulation and Trade, and Agriculture as well as high-level officials of various government agencies and the chief negotiator for the WTO accession of Belarus, Ambassador Vladimir Serpikov.
"The year of 2019 is crucial for Belarus on its path to WTO membership. We’ve set an ambitious goal to agree on all modalities of our accession to the WTO before the 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2020 in Astana," Mr. Yeudachenka said. "We believe that the time has come to move from a 25-year-long review of the Belarusian foreign trade regime to finalizing the draft commitments’ language," he added.
Mr. Yeudachenka cited some of the recent efforts undertaken by his government to bring the Belarusian legislation in conformity with WTO rules, such as: the cancellation of the foreign currency surrender requirement; the entry into force of a new Law on Anti-monopoly Regulation; and the introduction of amendments to the Law on Public Procurement. In addition, the Belarusian government was planning to introduce new legislation on natural monopolies, and protection of copyright and related rights, Mr. Yeudachenka stated. He also reported that Belarus had been granted observer status in the Government Procurement Committee and had submitted its draft Information Technology Agreement (ITA) schedule of commitments to the ITA Committee.
The Working Party Chair, Ambassador Kemal Madenoglu of Turkey, noted: "The Belarusian government has clearly indicated that it is fully mobilized and committed – at both political and technical levels - to concluding accession negotiations by MC12. This is an ambitious objective. I hope that, collectively, we can rise to this challenge. It is clear that Belarus can only achieve its goal if key domestic policy reforms are implemented in the near future. This will send WTO members a signal that Belarus' ambitions are credible."
"Over the next few months, I hope that we will see a genuine attempt by all parties to find common ground on key outstanding issues. Belarus has a lot to do and the ball is very much in its court. The Working Party needs to see tangible proof of Belarus' commitment to implement WTO-related reforms," he added.
On the bilateral track, Belarus confirmed the finalization of negotiations with Argentina, Iceland, Switzerland and Chinese Taipei, and that overall 20 bilateral market access agreements have been concluded.
On the legislative front, the Chair requested Belarus to keep the Working Party regularly informed of legislative developments by submitting translated copies of any new WTO-related legislation both at the national and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) levels. He also invited the Belarusian authorities to update its Legislative Action Plan for consideration at the next Working Party meeting.
Members underlined the need for Belarus to advance its reform agenda and liberalize its trade regime. They asked Belarus for clarification on a wide range of issues, including the investment regime, state ownership, pricing and competition policies, industrial policy, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, and intellectual property rights.
The Chair said the timing of the next meeting will depend on the availability of the required inputs and on progress on the market access front. "A specific date will emerge in consultation with delegations and the Secretariat once the new inputs are circulated. Nonetheless, I trust that the next meeting could take place before the summer break," Ambassador Madenoglu said.