A blessing or a curse for the struggling economy? Thirteen years later, Yemen joins the WTO

Published December 5th, 2013 - 12:19 GMT
Yemen became a member of the WTO Wednesday (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)
Yemen became a member of the WTO Wednesday (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

Following 13 years of negotiations, Yemen joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday, becoming the 160th member of the organization.

Yemen’s accession to the organization was signed at the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Bali, Indonesia.

Minister of Trade and Industry Sa’d Al-Deen Talib told the Yemen Times that the accession protocols have been completed.

Yemen first applied to join the WTO in 2000. It has gone through 11 rounds of negotiations, the latest in Geneva in September. While the WTO has accepted Yemen as a member state, Yemen must finalize procedures by formally securing the endorsement of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, the Cabinet and Parliament, Talib told Saba News Agency.

Talib emphasized the new investment opportunities Yemen would benefit from as a result of joining the organization.

Sana’a University economics professor Salah Al-Maqtari said the move was a bad one for Yemen.

“Yemen already has no customs restraints, and international products have invaded its markets, even before accession to the WTO,” he said.

Al-Maqtari said Yemen imports 85 percent of its food commodities from abroad and does not produce many goods for export.

“Yemen is on the losing side because its consumption [of imports] is higher than its production [of goods for export],” he said.

Car importer Sami Sabiha said the Yemeni government has not made any preparations to help industries or the economy deal with the difficulties they will face as a result of joining the organization.

A study released in August by the Social and Economic Development Research Center said that Yemeni businessmen have little knowledge of WTO policies. The majority of Yemeni businessmen support the accession, according to the study, and believe the move will improve the quality of local products, boost technological capabilities and consolidate the exportation process for crops.

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.

Membership with the WTO is not enough for the country to benefit economically—that, Al-Siri says, depends on the country’s ability to comprehend conventions and use them to their benefit.

Agriculture accounts for 17.6 percent of the country’s GDP and in rural areas, Al-Siri said, over 74 percent of Yemenis rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. As a condition for joining the WTO, Yemen agreed to limit agricultural tariffs to 24.9 percent.

The Economic and Social Research Center in Sana’a released a study this year saying that 67 percent of businessmen working in the agricultural sector believe joining the WTO was a positive step.

The study interviewed 270 businessmen in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, and Hadramout. It concluded that Yemen’s WTO membership would boost competition between domestic and imported crops in the local market. It would also boost exports of local agricultural crops to foreign markets. This progress, the study said, would only come about with improvement in agricultural infrastructure and packaging services.

Established in 1995, the WTO is the only international body that deals with international trade and conventions. Countries who want to join the WTO must open their markets and adhere to WTO rules and regulations.

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