WTO mar­ket prin­ci­ples doesn’t have a big­ger im­pact on na­tional goals

Bhutan Times - - Front Page - Deki Lha­zom

To be a mem­ber of World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) would mean em­brac­ing con­sumerism which of­ten is a ques­tion in Bhutan’s ac­ces­sion if WTO mar­ket prin­ci­ples are in line with sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Bhutan’s ap­pli­ca­tion to WTO started since 1999; how­ever Bhutan is still build­ing its ca­pac­ity for the ac­ces­sion.

A work­shop on ca­pac- ity build­ing for WTO ac­ces­sion and trade held last Wed­nes­day saw ex­perts dis­cuss about ben­e­fits and loss re­sult­ing from the ac­ces­sion.

The chief of trade pol­icy and anal­y­sis of the UN Eco­nomic and So­cial com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific UNESCAP, Dr Mia Mikie said it is not in the spirit of WTO to make trade ab­so­lutely free, that there is an ac­cept­able level of re­stric­tions in the form of pub­lic pol­icy, for in­stance pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and na­tional se­cu­rity.

She said the ideal mean­ing of free trade lies in the sense of making trade free from un­nec­es­sary dis­tor­tion like non- tar­iff bar­ri­ers and dis­crim­i­na­tion of prod­ucts.

Cit­ing an ex­am­ple of al­co­hol, she said im­ported al­co­hol is taxed more than the lo­cal. Once the coun­try be­comes a mem­ber of WTO the prod­ucts will be taxed the same de­spite the dif­fer­ences in the place of pro­duc­tion.

The WTO of­fers spe­cial and dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment to least de­vel­oped coun­tries ( LDC) and this ex­am­ple was used while talk­ing of the ad­van­tage Bhutan could have if it joins the or­ga­ni­za­tion since Bhutan falls into the cat­e­gory of least de­vel­oped coun­tries. ‘’You can pro­tect the ac­tiv­i­ties where you don’t want for­eign­ers to be,’’ she said.

She added that WTO mem­bers must agree to some de­gree of rec­i­proc­ity but this is not strictly im­posed on LDCs.

Bhutan banned im­ports tem­po­rar­ily due to se­vere ru­pee short­age. The ban would not have lasted more than six months had it been a WTO mem­ber then for one can­not dis­crim­i­nate for­eign goods.

Dr Mia Mikie said that there is noth­ing to fear and it is rather ben­e­fi­cial to be a mem­ber of WTO. She added that ac­ces­sion would mean up­ping the level of reg­u­la­tions and trade laws to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and more tech­ni­cal aid in the area of trade pro­mo­tion.

Trade depart­ment of­fi­cials said that even if Bhutan doesn’t have ba­sic fac­tors of pro­duc­tiv­ity land, labour and cap­i­tal, ac­ces­sion would mean at­tract­ing more for­eign direct in­vest­ments (FDI) and build­ing in­no­va­tive ca­pac­ity re­sult­ing in the growth of pri­vate sec­tor.

The key to at­tract more FDIs, of­fi­cials men­tioned are po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, peace and ac­cess to In­dian mar­ket among many oth­ers.

An of­fi­cial said that the coun­try’s trade leg­is­la­tions are al­ready con­sis­tent with WTO prin­ci­ples. But he said the pref­er­en­tial trade agree­ment with Bang- ladesh and free trade agree­ment with In­dia are much more favourable than other mul­ti­lat­eral and re­gional agree­ments.

The of­fi­cial said that the Trade Act gov­ern­ing the trade re­la­tions and com­pe­ti­tion pol­icy is in the fi­nal stages of ap­proval. He added that the coun­try has enough sup­port to join WTO within the min­istry but the most im­por­tant fac­tor lies with the will of politi­cians.

Dr Mia Mikie said an ef­fi­cient small and medium en­ter­prises by us­ing the FDI as means to aid would en­hance pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity for LDC.

Al­though FDI is sen­si­tive to cost of trad­ing, she said it is up to the gov­ern­ment as to how the coun­try wants the FDIs to be­have in the do­mes­tic regime.

‘’It is not ex­port- led de­vel­op­ment but trade led de­vel­op­ment that is sus­tain­able de­velop- ment, ‘’ she said.

When discussing of ben­e­fits from WTO, ex­perts said it is de­pen­dent on how well the coun­try can ne­go­ti­ate while ac­cess­ing. Trade of­fi­cials said the last ne­go­ti­a­tion was a good deal but sus­pended due to change in gov­ern­ment.

The of­fi­cials reached for a unan­i­mous con­clu­sion that join­ing the WTO would not have much an im­pact on the GNH goals.

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