WTO Delay – U.S. Piles Pressure On Liberia's Lower House As Deadline Nears

Monrovia — As Liberia races against time to conclude the ratification of the country accession to the World Trade Organization, a process that is now tied to the House of Representatives to ratify the WTO protocol, a senior American official, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, is warning that the country will be at a disadvantage point if it does not comply to ensure smooth accession to the WTO.

“Liberia is the only country in ECOWAS that has yet to become a WTO Member. This places it at an economic disadvantage compared to its neighbors both for regional and international trade. “

“As the June 15 deadline approaches for the lower house to ratify the country’s WTO accession package – Liberia must now ratify its accession agreement reached after nearly 10 years of negotiations with the WTO and trade partners” – Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs.

Liberia has concluded all arrangements and met nearly all the requirements to ascend to the WTO but the country’s final accession is now hanging on the shoulders members of the House of Representatives to follow the footstep of the Senators in ratifying the WTO protocol.

The Liberian Senate has already ratified the protocol and forwarded to the House of Representatives for concurrence but the House of Representatives is yet to hold public hearing or discuss the protocol, despite persistent calls from stakeholders for the body to act fast to be in line with a June 15 deadline.

The Senate on April 21 unanimously voted to successfully pass the act which was sent to the Lower House for concurrence. But more than a month later, the Act is still dangling in the corridors of the lower house as the June 15 deadline nears.

On December 16, 2015, World Trade Center Ministers formally approved Liberia’s membership terms at a special ceremony held at the WTO 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

The decision meant that Liberia will have until June 15, 2016 to ratify its Protocol of Accession and officially become a WTO member 30 days after it notifies its acceptance to the WTO Director-General.

Senior US Official speaks out

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs says if Liberia is to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for its youngest citizens, the country must ensure that they will have ample opportunity to succeed as the country enters its second decade of post-conflict stability.

According to Ambassador Greenfield, membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) will provide a foundation for establishing the rules-based system for growing the economy, attracting foreign investment, and securing that future for the country’s youth.

Economic disadvantage

Ambassador says Liberia is the only ECOWAS member country that is yet to ascend to the WTO, indicating that such places the country at economic disadvantage compared to other neighboring countries.

“Liberia is the only country in ECOWAS that has yet to become a WTO Member. This places it at an economic disadvantage compared to its neighbors both for regional and international trade. “

“As the June 15 deadline approaches for the lower house to ratify the country’s WTO accession package – Liberia must now ratify its accession agreement reached after nearly 10 years of negotiations with the WTO and trade partners”.

Further outlining the benefits of the WTO accession, Ambassador Greenfield stated that with more than 50 percent of Liberia’s population under 18 and facing limited prospects for gainful employment, the country desperately needs to create jobs through economic growth and diversification as called for in its 18-year development plan to reach middle income status by 2030.

Ambassador Greenfield added “WTO membership will provide the foundation for achieving this goal. This is not to suggest that WTO accession will be a panacea for all of Liberia’s economic challenges.

Membership by itself will not automatically create a dynamic economy. It will, however, reduce impediments to trade that will help attract new investment and allow entrepreneurs, innovators and efficient producers to flourish”.

Beneficial to ordinary Liberians

On the benefits of the WTO accession to the average Liberian, Ambassador Greenfield named the creation of more jobs generated through improved transparency, a more predictable business environment, and new investment, enhanced export opportunities for Liberian products and lower prices at the store and improved access to services.

Narrating further on these benefits she said the WTO Accession Protocol calls for enhancing Liberia’s investment climate to provide a transparent and predictable business environment noting that when Liberia joins the WTO, it will commit to establishing predictable tariff rates, ensuring transparency in the publication and enactment of laws, and adherence to an enforceable mechanism for resolving disputes.

“As to the benefits from lowered trade barriers to exports, look no further than the results of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which promotes trade with the United States. In 2014, non-oil AGOA trade was valued at $4.4 billion, a 250 percent increase from 2001, the first full year of AGOA. “

“That trade supports an estimated 300,000 direct jobs in Africa. Just as AGOA has contributed to trade growth in Africa by providing expanded duty-free access for exports from the region, WTO membership will provide similar opportunities for Liberia”, said the United States official for African Affairs.

On February 5, 2016, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf submitted to the Liberian Senate the Protocol on (WTO) for possible ratification.

The communication was immediately discussed by the Senate plenary from where it was mandated to forward to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs; Commerce, Trade and Industry and Judiciary, Claims, Petition and Human Rights.

After the wok of the Senate Committee the Plenary of the Senate ratified the protocol and forward to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

Since the protocol was sent to the House of Representatives, the body is yet to act and FrontPageAfrica has learned that missing the June 30 deadline could be costly for Liberia as international stakeholders, realizing the benefits that could come Liberia’s way invested heavily in the process to enable Liberia to become a full WTO member.

One diplomatic source told FPA recently “The United States government, the European Union, particularly Sweden which has reportedly invested some US$7 million in the process will not take it lightly, what is supposed to be the signal that Liberia is committed to a business climate that is transparent and predictable.”

The source added that some US$90 million has been raised to support the WTO Enhanced Framework support to countries like Liberia’s WTO accession bid.

Representative Charles Bardyl (District #3, River Gee County), Chairman on Commerce & Trade in the Lower House, when quizzed on the delay recently declined to respond, saying only that the issue is being processed.

The lawmaker admitted that his committee is yet to hold public hearing on the act for ratification.

Leave a Reply