Pacific countries in the WTO: Accession and accommodation, the reality of WTO accession
Date of this Version
In the 1990s, three Pacific island countries, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Samoa, applied to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, after negotiating for years to join and with membership almost a formality, Vanuatu in 2001 and Tonga in 2006 suspended the process of their accession. Although Samoa has never formally suspended its process, progress has been slow, and negotiations are about to enter their thirteenth year. These developing Pacific countries have small economies that represent only a tiny fraction of world trade. It is easy to ignore these decisions, particularly while countries with very significant economies, such as Russia, are in the accession process. However, the decisions by Vanuatu and Tonga to suspend their accession at such a late stage are unique in WTO history and raise important questions for the WTO and its membership that should not be ignored. Using Tonga, Vanuatu, and Samoa as case studies, this chapter begins by looking at the issue of trade and development in small island developing states (SIDS), and the potential impacts, both beneficial and detrimental, of the international trading system on these countries. It then explores some of the broader questions facing the WTO that are raised by Tonga and Vanuatu suspending their accession. First, it examines equity concerns about the WTO accession process, along with recent attempts to address these concerns. Second, it considers the shortcomings of the "special and differential treatment" (SDT) currently offered to developing countries and how their special needs could be better accommodated in the WTO. Samoa is included in this discussion because it has faced many of the same issues as Tonga and Vanuatu during its accession negotiations.
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