Speaking at the roundtable event, Minister Addy said although progress has been made in complete domestic policy and legal paperwork such as ratifying the WTO protocol by the National Legislature, there are other important aspects of the accession process that must be given serious consideration.
He indicated that there are four legislations that are before the National Legislature for passage. He named the Competition law which provides guidance on unfair competition, Foreign Trade law and the Intellectual property law, as legislations that need to be passed.
Minister Addy said the Post Accession Plan also considers what is doable as well as cheaper to achieve within a timeframe of 18 months, adding that most of the issued outlined in the plan require technical assistance to ensure that all of the documents and processes are in line with procedures and guidelines set forth under the WTO arrangement.
Liberia’s Accessions Package include Offer on Goods (Tariffs) which is based on ECOWAS CET (Common External Tariff and Customs Union), and Offer on Services which is a conservative package that includes Professional Services (Legal Services, Accounting Services, Taxation Services, Architectural Services, Engineering Services, Integrated Engineering Services, Medical and Dental Services, Veterinary Services, Services provided by Midwives, Nurses, Physiotherapists, and Paramedical Personnel; Computer and Related Services; Research and Development Services; Real Estate Services); Communication Services; Construction and Related Engineering Services; Distribution Services; Educational Services; Environmental Services; Financial Services; Health Related and Social Services; Tourism and Travel Related Services; Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services, and Transport Services.
One of the first commitments that Liberia has control over, according to the Accession paper, is the institution of a transparent importation regime for essential commodities including rice. As such, Liberia has commissioned a rice policy committee at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, comprising all of the stakeholders, to develop a new importation policy that will take into consideration domestic productions, rice as a political commodity, and the need for stockholding/buffering for food security purposes. The Committee includes the rice importers, the banking association, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Central Bank, Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Business Association and Liberia Chamber of Commerce.
Already, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has acknowledged the significance of Liberia ascending to the WTO. “Liberia’s accession to the WTO marks another turning point in our history, particularly in our journey of economic transformation for inclusive growth,” she said recently.
“Our transformation can neither be done alone, nor in isolation, but by forging partnerships. We appreciate the collective efforts of our partners who have made this accession a resounding success. We fully subscribe to the African common position on strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system to create the Africa that we want,” the Liberian leader said.
Trade and investment liberalization, which are fundamental pillars of the accession process, stimulate economic growth but analysts say careful policy-making by governments is required to distribute the resources among priority areas (e.g. by easing the adjustment of moving away from inefficient activities, by helping companies to become more productive and competitive, by encouraging new technologies and activities).
Among the benefits of WTO membership to consumers and producers are: reduced cost of living - reduced trade barriers lower the costs of imports used in production, resulting in lower prices of finished goods and services; more choice - more goods and services to choose from and broader range of qualities; wider choice of inputs in local production (materials, components, equipment, services); additional incomes (national and personal) due to lower trade barriers.
The Panelists at the roundtable meeting averred that legislative reforms required as part of the WTO accession process can result in rapid improvements in the domestic business climate, which in turn, could attract domestic and foreign investment. Through better integration into the global economy, trade can be used as an engine of economic growth and development and a tool towards poverty reduction.
Recent WTO Secretariat analysis, reflected in Director-General's 2012 Annual Report indicates that members acceding to the WTO in the last 15 years have been more successful in attracting foreign direct investment, have grown faster in terms of trade performance and demonstrated greater resilience to recover from economic crises.
Analysts also maintained that the pace of the reforms aimed at realizing the impact of the WTO accession will be based on the collective political will to change. We have to see this process as a bitter pill that we must take to cure the ills that keep the predators thriving in a weak system. And there are those who like the high level of discretion in the system because they have master the navigation of the system and know that others do not have the same level of insight to do the same, so they can never compete with them.
Tuesday’s meeting brought together Liberia’s international partners and donors. The next phace of the roundtable engagement will focus on the private sector and later other stakeholders in order to make the process holistic, according to Minister Addy.