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By Alan Ah Mu

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 13) – Like it or not, Samoa has to join the World Trade Organisation, Assistant Chief Executive Officer -Trade, Auelua T. Samuelu Enari said.

[PIR editor’s note: The World Trade Organization is a political and judicial body that regulates trade between countries around the world. Opponents have rallied against the WTO in the hopes of dismantling it.]

The existing world economic regime is now "WTO compliant," Auelua told the Samoa Observer.

If Samoa doesn’t join the organization, the rules will be made for us without our participation, he said.

It is better to join and be part of the decision making process, the ACEO of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

Auelua was speaking to the Samoa Observer on the first day of the National Workshop on the World Trade Organisation and the DOHA Development Agenda (DDA) Negotiations for the Private Sector, Civil Society and Government officials.

The workshop started Monday at the National Ecumenical Centre, Sogi. It ends on Friday.

Auelua said WTO responded to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade request for technical assistance by sending two experts to explain to workshop participants the different issues about WTO membership.

They want to extend as much as possible an understanding of what the issues were, he said.

"We want to join as soon as is practically possible," he said. "The challenge we are facing is to join on our own terms and conditions."

Auelua explained that Samoa has what they call "apply rates" in existence for goods of - in percentages - 0, 5, 8, 20.

Samoa wants to set what the WTO calls "bind rates" higher than those percentages.

In effect, Samoa wants to set bind rates of 12.5 percent (where it is 0 percent), 17.5 percent (where is 5 percent), 25 percent (where it is 8 percent) and 40 percent (where it is 20 percent).

The bind rates are the highest rates Samoa may go, according to its offer to the membership committee of WTO.

That way we have room to move when there is a need to with regards to goods, Auelua explained.

For example, in the case of turkey tails where duty is 0 percent, Samoa wants a bind rate of 12.5 percent so that it could raise duty and make the product more expensive to discourage people from buying it, for health reasons.

Another example is motor vehicles, where 20 percent duty prevails.

To discourage, say rubbish from discarded vehicles, Samoa wants room to put duty up from 20 percent but not above 40 percent.

But WTO countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United States amongst them, do not like that.

"Their intention is to bring everything down to zero (percent)," said Auelua. These countries believe duty distorts and impedes trade, he said.

He said China agreed to our conditions, our binding rates, in April.

"But we need to convince the others."

The bind rates are blocking Samoa’s membership of WTO. The organisation has 13 agreements, nine of which are compulsory and need to be satisfied before membership is granted.

Edwini Kessie, one of WTO’s experts, told the workshop that developed countries are benefiting the most from trade, not smaller and weaker countries like Samoa and Tonga.

But generally, WTO was a force for good, Mr Kessie said.

Becoming a member means countries do not have to enter into individual trade treaties with many countries - called bi-lateral agreements, he said.

He said WTO has 150 members so members are able to enter into multi-lateral trade agreements.

The organisation protects smaller countries, with Samoa, "tiny as it is" accorded the same rights as a big country like the United States.

Decisions are made by consensus with small countries given the same powers of veto as any other country, Mr Kessie said.

"It is developing countries who want the developed countries to open their markets up, not the other way around."

Mr Kessie gave as an example Samoa wanting to enter Australia’s labour market. He said there has to be positive overview of trade so that developed countries with the equipment to provide advanced services lacking in poorer countries

Amongst WTO’s principles is that of non-discrimination where trading countries treat the goods from the other equally, which means imports are taxed the same amount as the locally produced ones, Mr Kessie said.

During the opening the WTO workshop, Auelua said, "The objective ... is to raise national awareness of the complex WTO Agreements which cover a wide range of sectors such as goods, agriculture and services, as well as disciplines for customs, quarantine, technical standards, subsidies, and anti-dumping, among others.

"As you may be aware, with globalisation, it is now acknowledged that we live in an economically interdependent world, and trade clearly plays an important part in this regard.

"Trade across boarders constitutes a significant part of Gross Domestic Products of a number of countries.

"While interdependence has increased wealth for some, it has also increased vulnerability for others.

"National economies do not stand alone: economic forces move rapidly across boarders to influence other societies.

"The question is not whether a government will play on the international scene, but, how much scores it can attain out of it, and who it will play with.

"That is, what forum will it work in and what other governments is it willing to collaborate with?

"In Samoa’s case, our partnership with the Private Sector and the Civil Society is very critical in determining the commitments this country will make with other trading partners especially because, you are the actual business people and advocates for the people at the grassroots respectively.

"The Multilateral Trading System is important and has the potential to contribute to human development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

"This system has registered some progress in addressing the development needs of developing and poor countries.

"The Doha round with its emphasis on putting development on the WTO Agenda was a positive development in this regard.

"However, inherent in the globalisation and liberalisation process are some challenges that a state must monitor carefully and to proceed in the process with caution.

"These include: the possible increased marginalisation and insecurity of vulnerable groups such as women, and the people in the rural areas among others.

"As such, the government has, and is undertaking measures to strengthen domestic safety nets in our regulations and policies to ensure that any probably negative effects are contained.

"These measures are being undertaken for the above purpose and contrary to a popular view, that the initiatives, are being undertaken solely in order to accelerate our accession to the WTO.

"Samoa’s on-going accession to the WTO was a result of a well-thought out process that revealed that the benefits out-weighed the risks ....

"This process of accession, is being undertaken with all caution as is necessary hence the delay.

"We believe, if the civil society, the NGOS and the private sector are mobilised they can play an invaluable role in ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are well catered for and reflected in Samoa’s positions and also in other forums they advocate from.

"For instance, in a recent Pacific Ministers’meeting held in Fiji Nadi, sometime last month to discuss the way forward on negotiations for Regional Economic Partnership with the European Union, one of the observations the

Ministers’made, was the significant role the Private Sector together with civil society are playing in advocating especially at the international level for fair agreements.

"This achievement has partly been a result of the synergy between the government and your institutions and groups.

"It is our hope, that this workshop will highlight the key issues relevant to further your understanding of the complex WTO process, and also generate a discussion on any questions you may have relating to the WTO.

"It is expected that when you return to your respective groups, you can boost the sensitisation process on these issues."

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