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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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WTO Membership Worries Some Businesses In Samoa
Director-general touts increased opportunities with WTO

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, Nov. 29, 2012) – Despite being told of the positive impact of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), several Samoan-owned businesses raised the concern of being swamped under the demands of the bigger and powerful nations.

With free trading under WTO, member countries will have to open their markets to exports and imports. Whilst this could create positive opportunities, it has however raised issues which some local businesses think should have been clarified by WTO.

These issues include meeting the demands of bigger nations, the possible discrimination against certain products and (any) privileges allowed for small islands.

These businesses point to the road switch as an example. The United States of America as a supplier of left hand drive vehicles and under free trade the USA should require Samoa to accept left hand drive cars. Samoa made headlines internationally in 2009 when it changed legislation to switch from driving on the right to the left hand side of the road and stopped importing left hand drive cars. With WTO coming in, will Samoa have to amend its laws again to satisfy WTO’s standard.

The question was put to United States ‘charge de affairs to Samoa, Chad Berbert. He did not wish to comment directly on the question but said that for the success of trading, countries need to grasp the opportunities based on their needs.

Director General assures

The WTO Director General Lealamua Pascal Lamy reassured local businesses "that whilst the fears are noted, accession to WTO can be important in creating new trade opportunities and engineering a more transparent and predictable trade and investment regime."

He noted Samoa "is an important addition to the WTO family," he told members of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce in a special luncheon hosted on his behalf.

"The country, government and the private sector sees the potential which trade, regional integration and capacity building can have on growth and development," said Lealamua.

"On average, inflows of foreign direct investment to new members increased significantly illustrating the improvements in the domestic business environment facilitated by accession," he explained.

"There are benefits as a member. At the ‘micro’ level, WTO membership lends added credibility to government policies and sends clear signals to investors about a country’s commitment to an open economy."

He noted the reluctance of some Pacific Island nations to be part of WTO and he could understand, but the role of WTO in encouraging countries to join is due to the vision of WTO for all countries to prosper economically and freely in doing trade.

"Samoa is seeking to address what some may see as ‘intrinsic impediments to trade,’" said Lealamua. "And that countries could use the regional integration as a platform for diversification, co-operation and development through trade."

He strongly believes that Samoa’s accession to WTO "will provide a tapestry of opportunities to use trade as a development tool."

WTO records shows that only five Pacific Island countries are WTO members. Samoa joined in May 2012 and Vanuatu in August 2012 increasing the number to seven.

"This reaffirms that many countries in the region see accession to WTO as a wise and critical policy decision" said Lealamua Pascal.

It took Samoa 13 years to prove their qualifications as a member since it applied to become a member in 1998. The application was only approved during the 8th Ministerial Conference in December 2011.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Lauofo Pierre Meredith said that since the approval, government had been criticized. Questions of limiting the values of the domestic rules and regulations to multilateral agreements and the restriction of policy space were also raised.

The President of the Chambers of Commerce, Namulauulu Sami Leota said the positive feedback on free open trade is a booster for business and its development. He pushed for WTO funding for representatives of Samoan businesses to come to Brussels for educational and awareness training on the implications of Samoa’s membership as provided by WTO for the government sector

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