The price of WTO Membership

Economies such as China and Taiwan that joined the WTO after the WTO Agreements entered into force (1995) have had to comply with the rules without access, in most cases, to the long implementation periods available to original WTO Members; economies that were formerly members of the GATT. Compliance is difficult enough. But the bilateral deals on market access that are the second ‘downpayment’ on Membership can be even tougher, as Vietnam is finding: bq. There are still 27 countries requiring negotiation rounds with Vietnam. Last June, Vietnam conducted 20 bilateral rounds of negotiations with 17 WTO members, including the European Union (EU), the US, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Norway, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Chile and Paraguay. These negotiation rounds focused on goods and services fields. So far, Vietnam has completed negotiations with six out of 27 partners. (“VOV News”:http://www.vov.org.vn/2005_04_04/english/kinhte1.htm#VietnamonthewaytojoiningWTO) Even this, however, is more easily managed than the challenges that begin once accession is complete. At that point, the commercial impacts of new competition from imports begin. As the Chinese have found (“‘Full impact of WTO remains to be felt'”:http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200504/04/eng20050404_179323.html), the commercial pressure can bring much more rapid and difficult adjustment for domestic industries than the regulatory changes needed for compliance with the WTO rules. In a book of case studies that I co-edited last year for the WTO—to be published in the second quarter by Cambridge University Press—there is an account of the challenges that the banking sector of Vietnam faces following accession. There are many similarities with the reported Chinese experience. I’ve also recently finished a project working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) in Hanoi on a ‘roadmap’ of adjustments in the agricultural sector that will follow Vietnam’s accession. The changes, which will be driven both by regulatory and by commercial factors, are likely to make a profound mark on Vietnam’s social and industrial environment. Joining the WTO brings about regulatory and commercial challenges that are epoch-making for most developing economies (as our ‘case study book’ demonstrates) particularly if the economy is simultaneously in transition from a planned to a market-oriented economic constitution. But the challenges will be bigger after the adoption of the new agreements being negotiated in the Doha round of WTO. Those agreements will require still more openness to global markets (and global opportunities) in agricultural, manufacturing and services markets. As was the case a decade ago at the end of the Uruguay Round, only those economies that are Members of WTO before the Agreements enter into force will be able to take full advantage of the implementation delays to be built into the Agreements. Despite the ‘price’ it is paying for full membership of the modern world trading system, Vietnam may well look back on today’s terms as a ‘bargain’.

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