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Accession of Belarus to the WTO

The Republic of Belarus has been negotiating accession to the WTO for over 25 years since 1993, when the application to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was submitted. 

In order to pursue WTO accession negotiations, the Interministerial Commission of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus was established by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus № 439 of July 27, 1999. The Decision of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus № 1338 of August 27, 1999 approved the Statute of the Commission and the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus as its head. In addition to the representatives of public authorities, the Commission includes representatives of business associations and non-governmental organizations. 

In 2016, the Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Serpikov was appointed as the chief negotiator. 

There are three main tracks in the WTO accession negotiations: 

bringing legislation into conformity with the WTO rules;
access to the goods and services markets;
state support for agriculture.

— Bringing legislation into conformity with the WTO rules

Accession to the WTO requires hard work of the candidate country to bring its legislation into conformity with the rules of the organization. The results of this work are evaluated during the meetings of the WTO Working Party.

The Working Party is a specially established body, which includes all WTO Members interested in trade and investment cooperation with Belarus. The Working Party of Belarus consists of 47 Members, including all EAEU Member States, as well as the EU, USA, China and Ukraine and other countries. At the Working Party meetings, achievements in reforming the legislation are assessed, clarifying questions about trade regime regulations are voiced, and proposals on commitments and further negotiations are discussed. Based on the results of such meetings, a decision to move to the next stage of negotiation process is made. 

Negotiating stages are fixed by the WTO accession procedure and represent adopting documents in a specific sequence: Memorandum – Checklist – Factual Summary – Draft Working Party Report. 

In 2016, Belarus significantly intensified its efforts to join the WTO. The transition from the Factual Summary to the draft Report of the Working Party was arranged, and Belarus entered the final stage of its accession negotiations. In 2017 – 2020, five Working Party meetings were held, the last took place on July 11, 2019. The dates of the next Working Party meeting are being coordinated.

The Working Party Report is a comprehensive document that describes the economic policies of Belarus affecting trade, as well as the entire negotiation process during the Working Party meetings. In addition, the Report includes a number of commitments for pursuing economic policy in accordance with the WTO rules, which Belarus will have to comply with after accession.

The approval of the Report will be in fact the final point in the negotiations on Belarus’ accession to the WTO.

— Access to the goods and services markets

Belarus conducts negotiations with WTO Members on the bilateral basis. To join the WTO, it is necessary for Belarus to agree on the conditions for access to the goods and services markets with each interested Member and sign a bilateral protocol. 

Despite the fact that key issues are resolved at face-to-face meetings, most of the bilateral negotiations take place in the form of an exchange of written proposals on market access conditions. The main types of the negotiation documents are the tariff offer and the offer on the services market access. 

The tariff offer is the main document in the negotiations on market access for goods. It reflects current proposals of the parties on the level of tariff bindings, import tariff quotas for certain types of goods and the list of initial negotiating rights. 

The proposal on the level of tariff binding represents those tariff rates for each tariff line that Belarus will not be able to exceed after joining the WTO. 

Import quota – is the volume of goods that can be imported into Belarus at rates lower than bound (in line with the obligations of Belarus in the EAEU. 

After the creation of the EAEU, the establishment of tariff rates is the competence of the Eurasian Economic Commission. In this regard, in the negotiations on the level of tariff binding, Belarus, on the one hand, does not have flexibility to satisfy the requests of WTO Members, and, on the other hand, has a weighty argument for maintaining the current level of tariff protection. 

The initial negotiating rights represent Belarus’ commitments in case the tariff level for a particular group of goods is revised. They mean that Belarus will on a first-priority basis take into account the interests of those Members to which such rights are granted for the corresponding group of goods. 

The offer on services market access is a list of conditions for foreign companies to access various services sectors of Belarus with respect to each of the four modes of supply: cross-border supply of services, consumption of services abroad, commercial presence of a service provider in Belarus, and presence of natural persons of a foreign service provider. 

The proposal includes restrictions on market access and national treatment, or their absence.

After signing all the protocols, a consolidated document is prepared. It indicates a aggregated list of all concessions for access to markets. Such a list is formed on the most favored principle – for each tariff line or service, the best offer is taken from all signed protocols.

To date, bilateral negotiations on market access with 22 WTO Members have been completed. The latest protocols were signed with Switzerland and Australia. Negotiations are ongoing with seven other WTO Members, including the US, EU and Ukraine. 

— State support for agriculture

To join the WTO, Belarus must also fix the permitted amount of state support for agriculture. However, it is not necessary to coordinate the amount of all possible support, but only the amount that can be used as part of the so-called amber box measures.

According to WTO rules, measures of state support for agriculture are divided into three boxes: red, green and amber.

Red box measures, which include export subsidies and import substitution programs, are completely prohibited, since they have a direct negative impact on free trade. 

Green box measures are fully permitted and include an extensive list of policy instruments (infrastructure construction, R&D and others).

The amber box includes measures that affect trade, but are not related to prohibited instruments (concessional lending, payments for the purchase of raw materials and fertilizers, price support and others). It is the maximum amount of such support that is agreed upon the accession to the WTO. 

Negotiations on state support for agriculture are held in the form of special meetings and informal consultations.

In 2017 – 2020, 3 special meetings on state support for agriculture and several rounds of informal consultations were held.

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