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Tonga’s membership to WTO approved

WTO Ministers successfully approve Tonga’s membership at Hong Kong Conference

The WTO Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong today (15 December) approved Tonga’s terms of accession. This decision paves the way for the South Pacific Island nation to become the 150th member of the Organization. “The Kingdom of Tonga is pleased that its sustained efforts and commitment to a transparent and predictable trading environment have led to its successful membership of the WTO and, through it, to a fuller integration with the world economy,” said Minister for Labour, Commerce and Industries, Dr. Feleti Sevele.

“Ministers’ action at this Sixth Ministerial Conference to welcome the Kingdom of Tonga is truly significant. Tonga will not only be set to become the 150th Member of the Organization, it will also be the fourth Pacific Island State to join the WTO after Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. We will continue to work together to facilitate the effective involvement of small economies such as Tonga in the work of our Organization,” said Director-General Pascal Lamy.

The decision was also welcomed by Chairman of the Working Party, Mr. Stuart Harbinson, “Today marks the culmination of much dedicated and constructive effort on behalf of both the Government of Tonga and WTO Members to make Tonga’s accession a reality. I congratulate all concerned. Tonga may be a relatively small economy but, with its unique culture and environment, it will certainly enrich the deliberations of the Organization.”

Tonga is a South Pacific Island country with a population of approximately 112,000 and an area of 748 sq km. Per capita income amounts to about US$1,600. Agriculture accounts for 23% of GDP and the services sector for 63%.

The Kingdom of Tonga applied for accession to the WTO in June 1995, but negotiations effectively started in April 2001. The terms of membership, which include the Report of the Working Party for the Accession of Tonga, the Protocol of Accession, and the Schedules of Tonga’s commitments on Market Access for Goods and Services, were adopted by the Working Party on 1 December 2005. Those terms will now be ratified by the Government of Tonga, Ministry of Labour, Commerce and Industry. Thirty days after having notified the WTO of the completion of this process, Tonga will become the 150th WTO Member.

Tonga has agreed to undertake a series of important commitments to continue the liberalization of its trade regime and thereby ensure its full participation in the multilateral trading system.

Among the commitments undertaken by Tonga are the following:

Tonga has been granted transition periods to implement the Customs Valuation Agreement and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights until 1 January 2008 and 1 June 2008 respectively.

Tonga will eliminate all industrial subsidy schemes prohibited under the WTO by the date of accession. However, actionable subsidies under the WTO will be allowed.

Concerning the application of technical standards and regulations, Tonga will apply the transparency provisions of the Agreement upon accession. Technical requirements or standards and conformity assessment procedures adopted in the future, if any, will be in conformity with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

Tonga will implement the provisions of the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures upon accession.

Goods

With the conclusion of market access negotiations on goods, Tonga has committed to lowering trade barriers and expanding market access for foreign goods over a one year period. By 1 January 2007, all tariff lines will be bound at 15 or 20 per cent.

Services

As a result of the negotiations, Tonga agreed to commitments in 11 sectors.

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