A Challenging Road Ahead: Turkmenistan Takes Further Steps Toward the WTO Accession

Turkmenistan is in the midst of the WTO accession process as it hopes to become a full member of the World Trade Organization. On November 24, 2021, Turkmenistan submitted its application to join the organization and on February 23, 2022 established the Working Party. The Working Party is open to all interested WTO Members who will negotiate multilaterally with Turkmenistan. However, it’s not yet clear which countries will join Turkmenistan’s Working Party.

On May 30, 2023 a Round Table on WTO Accession was organized by the government of Turkmenistan in collaboration with the WTO Secretariat and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The goal was to facilitate Turkmenistan’s preparations for accession to the WTO. During the event, Turkmenistan also announced the establishment of a special Working Commission to develop the Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR), which serves as the first crucial document to launch the WTO accession process. MFTR should provide a full summary of Turkmenistan’s trade regime set out according to the Outline Format provided by the WTO. The Outline is available online and it lists specific chapters and information to be included in the MFTR such as trade data and other related statistics on domestic economy.

During the round table Kazakhstan’s accession negotiating team shared their experience on preparing the MFTR. Kazakhstan’s negotiations lasted nearly 20 years and they became a full member only in 2015. Kazakhstan prepared its MFTR in the same year it established its Working Party in 1996. It is a 197-page long document which is publicly available on the WTO website. While Turkmenistan established its Working Party in 2022 it is still unclear when MFTR will be created. Since accession negotiations cannot start without this document, Turkmenistan is wasting time by dragging it.

Currently there are two documents from Turkmenistan on the WTO database, neither of which are open to the public. The documents are about the formation of Turkmenistan’s Working Party and its application to join the WTO. Turkmenistan also prepared and approved the Work Plan for 2023-2024 aimed at enhancing collaboration with the WTO Secretariat. However, the content of this Work Plan is not open to the public and is not available online.

On 8 June 2023 at Astana International Forum senior officials from Central Asian countries discussed the opportunities and challenges of WTO accession negotiations. During the event, Rahymberdi Jepbarov, Chairman of the Board of the State Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of Turkmenistan shared his country’s goals for becoming a full member of the WTO which aim to:

  1. Improve national legislation to enhance the quality of business environment;
  2. Increase transparency and predictability to boost investment attractiveness;
  3. Activate and expand trade, including expansion of imported goods;
  4. Improve regional cooperation and grow business ties;
  5. Hold the first Working Party meeting until the end of 2023.

In response to Jepbarov’s speech, Zhanar Aitzhan shared her recommendations based on her experience as Kazakhstan’s chief negotiation officer in joining the WTO. She called upon the government of Turkmenistan to:

  • create transparency and trust between stakeholders and avoid attempting to hide any information as it will only waste time.
  • have more technical experts in the team to learn about the WTO procedures and follow all the details in the negotiations since there are no shortcuts or possibility to freeride.
  • implement market-oriented reforms, decrease the role of the state in the economy, and allow more competition between businesses as it will indirectly affect the negotiations process.
  • work on export duties. Since Central Asian countries supply raw materials to the international market, WTO members want an uninterrupted supply of goods with fewer duties.

To learn more about the timeline of Turkmenistan’s WTO accession, check our article here.

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