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Cambodia, Nepal get WTO green light to join
( 2003-09-12 16:49) (Agencies)

Cambodia and Nepal, two of the world's poorest nations, got the green light on Thursday to join the World Trade Organization, but Cambodia said it had had to pay a heavy price for entry.

"We believe that the package of concessions and commitments that we have to accept certainly goes far beyond what is commensurate with (Cambodia's) level of development," Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh told WTO ministers.

He said the Asian state, whose main products are textiles and rice, had pressed forward with accession because of signs that the Geneva-based trade body was changing and beginning to give greater weight to poor states' concerns.

"If we were not confident that the WTO was taking care of the interests of the developing world, we would not join yet. We would wait," Cham said.

"We are joining because we see a positive trend in the WTO since Doha and that's the reason why we've speeded up our accession negotiations," he said in reference to the Qatari capital where the 146-state WTO launched the current round of free trade talks.

The two are the first LDCs (least developing countries), the world's 49 poorest states, to join the body since its launch in 1995.

Cambodia, which only recently emerged from years of political upheaval and violence, said it hoped to complete the ratification process -- the last step to membership -- before the six-month deadline next March 30. It will become the WTO's 147th member 30 days later.

"All accessions, whether big or small, are about creating equal opportunities for growth and prosperity," said WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi. "It is also a signal that WTO member governments are serious in their commitment to improving developing countries' and least developing countries' participation in the world trading system."

But Cham said WTO member states had frequently forgotten Cambodia's LDC status in the entry negotiations when making demands in such areas as tariff cuts.

"For the sake of national reconciliation and peace in Cambodia, we paid heavy prices and now, for the sake of world integration, we had to pay another before we could join the WTO," he said.

Nepal, with a population of 23 million and per capita income of less than $1 a day, is heavily dependent on agriculture, which provides 80 percent of employment and 41 percent of economic output. Most of its trade is with India.

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