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Bhutan formally conveys intent to join WTO

Thukten Zangpo 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET) sent a formal communication to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Secretariat in Geneva in April end expressing Bhutan’s desire to join the organisation.

The government requested for all necessary and available support for the accession process, including technical support and negotiating capacity-building within Bhutan’s negotiation team, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.

The official stated that the Permanent Mission of Bhutan, Geneva has been instructed to maintain close communication with the WTO Secretariat and keep the MFAET informed on any options or developments or advisories to ensure meaningful, smooth and quick accession. 

In the first week of May, the WTO Accession Negotiation Team was established, led by MFAET and composed of members from all relevant agencies. Documentation work has already begun. 

Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment, Lyonpo Karma Dorji, previously mentioned in an interview that if Bhutan expresses its intent to join WTO before graduating from the status of least developed countries (LDC), Bhutan will have an opportunity to continue benefiting from WTO membership even after graduation. 

Bhutan is currently a least LDC, and it has until December 2023 to graduate from this status. 

Lyonpo stated that if Bhutan joins as an LDC, the WTO would provide three years for compliance with WTO rules and standards, with the possibility of a two-year extension. This allows a total of five years for preparation.

LDCs receive special treatment from WTO members, including greater market access opportunities, flexibility in implementing WTO rules, and assistance to enhance trading capacities. 

The WTO members have also agreed to further support LDCs integration into global trade by providing duty-free and quota-free market access for LDC products, preferential rules of origin guidelines, and measures to facilitate the services trade from LDCs. 

The special provisions include longer periods for implementing agreements and commitments or measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries.

Lyonpo also emphasised that joining WTO would strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignty and provide access to a broader market consisting of 164 member-countries.

He highlighted that adhering to trade rules followed by all member countries would establish standards and predictability. 

Lyonpo added that with trust and confidence, member-countries would be more inclined to invest in foreign direct investments (FDI), and Bhutan aims to attract more FDIs.

At the same time, he mentioned that following WTO standards would lead to improved quality of exports, including local products, while also enabling the import of high-quality goods.