12:00PM Sunday November 11, 2007
By Cherelle Jackson
New Pacific island countries ready to enter into the World Trade Organization.
This is according to Trade Representative of the Pacific Island Forum Trade Office in Beijing, Mr Rohan Ellis.
"Samoa has a strong government, is pro private sector and it has shown tremendous success in the reforms," Mr Ellis said.
Not all Pacific countries are ready for the move according to Mr Ellis, but Samoa is certainly poised to do so.
"In the long run, it is a great opportunity for Samoa as it is a stepping stone to better trade," he said.
All that Samoa is missing, according to Mr Ellis, is "innovation drive."
Convinced about Samoa's potential, Mr Ellis said Samoa needed to provide a product of difference to cater for a niche market.
"Samoa should make use of traditional and cultural products but create something that is different, that can be in demand," he said.
Currently Samoa is in accession status to the WTO, with negotiations currently underway at the national level.
A working party on the accession of Samoa was established on July 15 1998 and the Memorandum on Samoa's Foreign Trade Regime was circulated in February 2000.
A first revision of the draft Working Party Report was circulated in November 2006. Samoa submitted initial offers in goods and services in 2001.
The services offer was later revised in 2005 and 2006.
Mr Ellis said: "Not all countries are ready, but those who can afford to should enter."
He said although there was much to be gained through the WTO smaller islands also stood to lose if they were not careful.
"Samoa should make sure that the country is armed and ready to deal with the implications of the WTO," he said.
Mr Ellis, however, insists that the special privileges allowed by the WTO to smaller nations should give Samoa the chance to explore what the trade agreement has to offer.
He is one of the few who have expressed favourable support for Samoas accession to the WTO.
The last visit by the WTO to Samoa in June was met with scepticism by locals during a national level consultation.
Members from the Samoa Umbrella for Non Government Organization raised their concerns about the accession supporting notions by Oxfam New Zealand that Samoa may be taken advantage of by larger economies, once in the WTO.
Members of SUNGO expressed their concerns about the size, structure and strength of the Samoan economy to survive in the WTO.
Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand told Newline in an interview during the fifth Civil Society Forum in Samoa said that the decision to enter the WTO would have an impact on the independence of Samoa.
Mr Coates - who identified the islands need for "protection" - was adamant that there was more to lose than be gained from joining the organisation.
"Tough" was the word he used to describe the attitude towards new members of the WTO.
The demands include the observance of Intellectual Property (IP) rights and exercising Patent regulations whereby the entering nation will suffer strict policies by the WTO.
According to Mr Coates this would cause major problems Samoa.
"There have already been cases of new medicinal plants discovered in Samoa and once Samoa is in the WTO those plants can be patented by foreign companies."
But that's not it, when IP is observed many of the local bands, video stores and unsolicited content used on local TV stations will be taken out.
Samoans will face heavy penalties and repercussions for their actions.
"There's a lot that needs to be considered before Samoa moves into the WTO and everyone needs to be aware of the implications of it," Mr Coates said.
But WTO Counselor from Geneva and Coordinator for Asian and Pacific Economies Edwini Kwame Kessie, told Newline during the consultations that all trade negotiations are transparent in the WTO.
"Probably the most important of all principals is the accepted retaliation which consists in the cost of ignoring WTO commitments. It means that if a country chooses to ignore its WTO commitments, then those other members of the WTO whose trade has been negatively impacted can seek compensation."
The second central principle according to the WTO is non-discrimination which means that members of the WTO must treat all other members equally.
The most common example of this principle is the extension of most-favoured nation tariff rates to all members of the WTO.
A country that joins the WTO therefore agrees to extend the lowest tariff rate it charges any country on a particular customs category of goods to all other members.
But Mr Kessie said current Least Developed Countries (LDCs) members of the WTO have yet to benefit from the agreement.
"The share of LDC in world trade is 0.5 per cent, obviously the reason why they are not benefiting has got to do more with site supply constraints, most of them have not enacted the right economic and trade policies, they are unstable, the reality is, for most of these LDCs, it is not because of the WTO but due to current fundamental problems in those countries, that is why I stress that Samoa adopts the right economic and trade policies," Mr Kessie said.
The WTO was established in 1995, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) as the only international body with the global rules of trade between nations.
Mr Kessie reminded that it was a common misconception that WTO was a law-making and enforcement institution similar to a domestic legal system.
"It is not. It is an international organization that countries voluntarily agree to join. It has no coercive powers and all the countries that have chosen to become members have voluntarily accepted its rules."
According to him: "the WTO is therefore a political compromise."