WTO Study Tour to Kathmandu, Nepal

One of the important elements of Afghanistan’s development agenda is accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  On December 13, 2004, the WTO General Council granted Afghanistan WTO Observer status and established a Working Party to handle Afghanistan’s accession.

Afghanistan submitted its Memorandum on Foreign Trade Regime in 2009.  WTO members reviewed the document and submitted 168 questions. Replies were prepared by Afghanistan and submitted in June 2010.  This has enabled Afghanistan to start consultations with the WTO Working Party on the accession process.  Afghanistan held its first Working Party meeting on 31st January 2011.  Additional questions were submitted in April 2011 and replies were provided in September 2011 in advance of Afghanistan’s second Working Party meeting scheduled for March 2012.

WTO members expect Afghanistan to submit its initial offers on goods and services in 2012 and launch bilateral negotiations thereafter.  It is critical to prepare Afghanistan’s team of negotiators to successfully handle bilateral negotiations on market access to goods and services. It is equally important to provide Afghan negotiators the opportunity to learn about the practical experience of negotiating WTO accession.

Accordingly, USAID/TAFA organized and sponsored a study tour to Nepal that occurred from 3rd – 8th January, 2012.  The focus of this trip was to provide an opportunity for the Afghan negotiation team to meet and discuss the accession process with their counterparts in Nepal.  Specifically, the tour was designed to learn from Nepal their experiences and knowledge regarding participation in a multilateral trading system.  By the end of the stay, the touring team learned about the approach and challenges faced by Nepal during its accession process to the WTO.

Mr. Toya Narayan Gnwali, Head of WTO from Ministry of Commerce and Supplies of Nepal warmly welcomed the visiting delegation from Afghanistan and thanked them for selecting Nepal as their case study.  He stated that Nepal was the first Least Developed Country to accede to the WTO (other than GATT LDC signatories which automatically became WTO members). Mr. Gnwali related that Nepal applied for GATT in 1989 and when the WTO was established in its place, Nepal applied for WTO membership in 1995 and became a full member of WTO in 2004.

Mr. Gnwali shared the step by step process of accession as well as the process of domestic consultations and preparation for accession.  He added that the role of private sector is critical to the accession process and advised the Afghanistan team to consult the private sector of Afghanistan and Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce & Industries (ACCI) in every step to WTO accession and in the negotiation process.

Mr. Mozammil Shinwari, Deputy Minister of Commerce and Industries and head of the Afghan delegation expressed his sincere appreciation to the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies of Nepal for receiving the Afghan visitors and for their cooperation and coordination in organizing the WTO study tour to Nepal.  He provided a brief background on Afghanistan’s accession process to WTO and also stated that Afghanistan is willing to be a member of multilateral trading agreements and explained the overall objectives of the WTO study tour to Nepal.  Mr. Shinwari pointed out that there are many similarities between Afghanistan and Nepal including being a Least Developed Country, land locked, similar in size of population, agriculture-based economy, and undergoing transition.

Additionally, Mr. Shinwari articulated that Afghanistan is very much interested in learning about the successful experience of Nepal in negotiating WTO accession and how that endeavour benefited Nepal's private sector.  He also outlined that this tour was aimed at building the capacity of the negotiation team to better understand the experiences and challenges faced by Nepal with respect to the implementation of policy, legal, and institutional reforms to comply with the various WTO agreements.

Mr. Shinwari added “we have the honour to mention that Afghanistan is working closely with the private sector especially ACCI which is the only powerful and strong institution representing all the private sector of Afghanistan.”  With regards to the suggestion to consult with the private sector, he said that the government of Afghanistan and the Ministry of Commerce closely consults the private sector in every step including the drafting of laws related to the accession process.

The Afghan delegation met and had very good interactions with all relevant ministries and stakeholders including the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Transport, Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), private sector members, Central Bank of Nepal, Nepal Standards Bureau, and Nepal Customs Department.

Beside the official meetings, the ACCI representative on the team met with the Vice-President of Nepal, Chief Negotiator for the private sector of Nepal on accession process, and the management team at FNCCI.  ACCI’s representative discussed mutual areas of cooperation for both chambers, the signing of a cooperation agreement, and coordination of Afghan delegates to the Nepal International Exhibition scheduled for March 2012.