Tripoli starts talks on joining WTO

30 July 2004
Libya's application to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was approved for consideration on 27 July after a wait of over two-and-a-half years. Following the agreement of the organisation's 147 members to begin talks, the country will now be given observer status. Tripoli first applied for membership in December 2001, reminding the WTO of its aim to join in June 2003.

The chairman of the WTO's executive general council will now invite member states to join a working party to consider the application. Any country can join the committee, but sources at the WTO expect 50-60 countries to take part. The working party is likely to convene in the next two months.

Although economic liberalisation is not a prerequisite for entry into the WTO, bilateral talks with member states are likely to work towards this goal, especially given the state-dominated nature of the local economy.

The length of the process is likely to be determined by Libya's receptiveness to liberalisation. Although no country has been denied membership once its application has been accepted, the waiting period varies widely. China's application was under review for 15 years, while Kyrgystan was accepted in 1998 after just three years of negotiations. It is estimated that talks on Libya's application will take six-eight years.

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