Kazakhstan: Astana Ready to Join WTO After Two Decades of Talks
Kazakhstan is poised to become part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) nearly two decades after it first applied to join. The Central Asian nation has completed entry talks that have been among the most “challenging” the global body has faced with any country.
Kazakhstan “finalized the negotiations of its WTO membership terms with WTO members at the Working Party meeting on Kazakhstan’s accession on 10 June,” the international trade body said in a statement issued the same day.
Farida Batyrbayeva, spokeswoman for Minister of Economic Integration Zhanar Aytzhanova, confirmed to EurasiaNet.org the completion of talks that started back in 1996.
Astana will not release details of the accession package until after a meeting in Geneva on June 22 at which the WTO’s 161 member states will consider formal approval of the draft accession package, Batyrbayeva added.
The WTO announcement came on the same day that the Agriculture Ministry had declined to put a date on Kazakhstan’s long-delayed accession, hinting at behind-the-scenes disagreements over agricultural subsidies.
The size of subsidies Kazakhstan would be permitted to retain for the agricultural sector – which contributes some 5 percent of GDP and employs around a quarter of the workforce – remained “unresolved,” as Kazakhstani negotiators tried to secure “the maximum possible domestic support,” the ministry told Tengri News on June 10, shortly before the WTO issued its statement on the completion of the accession talks.
Evidently, negotiators overcame the stumbling block to conclude the deal, which WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo hailed as a “historic step.”
The accession talks with Kazakhstan were among “the most challenging negotiations” in the WTO’s 20-year history, the statement said.
It made it clear that the process had been substantially set back by Kazakhstan joining the Russia-led Customs Union (a regional free trade zone) in 2010, which evolved into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) this year.
“The complexity and uniqueness of Kazakhstan’s accession lies in the negotiations on tariff adjustment due to Kazakhstan’s membership of the Eurasian Economic Union (consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia),” the WTO said.
“Tariff adjustment consisted of resolving discrepancies between bilateral market access agreements negotiated by Kazakhstan with WTO members, Russia’s schedule of commitments and the common external tariff of the customs union. This had emerged as the principal hurdle in completing Kazakhstan’s market access negotiations.”
Russia joined the WTO in 2012, offering a roadmap for EEU member states to accede to the world trade body. Negotiations for all EEU member states were held back after Moscow initially pledged to negotiate entry as a customs union bloc, then proceeded to join alone.
The final date for Kazakhstan’s entry is expected to become clear after the meeting on June 22, where final approval of the accession agreement is viewed as a formality.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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