The timeline of Turkmenistan’s accession to WTO

Turkmenistan’s progression towards the World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, initiated with its observer status application in May 2020, illustrates a multifaceted journey. This timeline, sourced from state media and WTO documentation, chronologically details the country’s steps towards integrating into the global trading system. It highlights a series of strategic engagements, training, and documentation. However, the limited public access to certain key documents and the intricacies of the negotiation process suggests a need for a nuanced understanding of Turkmenistan’s approach to international trade. We have previously discussed Turkmenistan’s road to WTO accession here and here.

The key international organizations helping Turkmenistan in its accession process include – the EU, USAID, IMF, ADB, OSCE, UNDP and UNECE.

What’s on the horizon?

In 2024 Turkmenistan will start WTO accession negotiations. And if the government cooperates, as the Deputy Director-General of the WTO Zhang Xiangchen predicts, Turkmenistan could achieve WTO accession by 2030.

Turkmenistan’s WTO Accession Timeline

22 July 2020

WTO members agreed to grant Turkmenistan observer status in the organization. Turkmenistan submitted its request for observer status in May 2020, indicating its intent to initiate negotiations for WTO accession within five years.

24 November 2021

Turkmenistan officially submitted its application to join the WTO under Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization. The document which contains Turkmenistan’s request for accession is restricted and not open to the public.

23 February 2022

The General Council of the WTO decided to grant Turkmenistan the status of an acceding country (“active observer”) to the WTO. The General Council also agreed to establish a Working Party which will oversee negotiations between members and Turkmenistan on the terms of its accession. The document which contains the information on the Working Party on the accession of Turkmenistan is restricted and not open to the public.

15 June 2022

On June 15, 2022, a videoconference round table was held in Ashgabat, focusing on Turkmenistan’s efforts to join the WTO. This event was part of the “Partnering for SDG acceleration. Phase II” project by UNDP and the Turkmen Ministry of Finance and Economy. It included discussions on a draft Roadmap for 2022-2025 to align Turkmenistan’s legislation with WTO standards. The meeting was a key step in the collaboration aimed at boosting Turkmenistan’s role in coordinating Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation.

4-5 July 2022

WTO Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang on 4-5 July paid an official visit to Turkmenistan. The main purpose of the visit was to discuss the Government’s vision for its WTO accession process, launch the work programme for preparation of Turkmenistan’s Memorandum on Foreign Trade Regime (MFTR), and attend a roundtable on technical assistance with development partners. MFTR is the first and key document of Turkmenistan to be presented to WTO Members in its accession process. It will provide the factual basis on Turkmenistan’s trade regime to be considered by Members and in future negotiations.

28 February 2023

The Turkmen delegation was trained at the World Trade Institute in Switzerland. Members of the Government Commission for the Study of issues related to Turkmenistan’s accession to the WTO attended the Winter Academy-2023 course at the World Trade Institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland. This is reported in the press release of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project, which organized the visit together with the International Trade Center.

15 March 2023

The delegation of Turkmenistan headed by the Chairman of the State Bank for Foreign Economic Activity of Turkmenistan Rahymberdi Jepbarov, who is on a visit to Geneva, Switzerland, held talks with the Director General of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her deputy Xiangchen Zhang. The Turkmen side stressed the readiness of the country’s government to work with WTO member states and other interested parties to start the process of joining the Organization.

4 April 2023

The Trade Information Portal was launched on April 4, 2023 to support Turkmenistan’s efforts to join the WTO. Funded by the EU and implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) under the Ready4Trade Central Asia project, the Portal streamlines cross-border trade by simplifying import, export, and transit processes. It offers access to trade laws, regulations, and documents, as well as international trade statistics focused on over 25 product groups, particularly in the agrifood sector. We have previously outlined the shortcomings of the Portal and recommendations for improvement.

Ready4Trade Central Asia is a 4-year EU-funded project which aims to support Investment, Competitiveness and Trade in Central Asia, thus contributing to sustainable and inclusive economic development in the region. The project includes Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and has a budget of 15 million Euros.

29 May 2023

The Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan V. Hajivev held talks with the Director of the Department for WTO Accession Division Maika Oshikawa, who is on a working visit to Ashgabat. During the meeting, the parties discussed topical issues of enhancing cooperation concerning the process of Turkmenistan’s accession to the WTO. In this regard, it was emphasized that the Turkmen side had prepared and approved the Work Plan for 2023-2024 to expand cooperation with the WTO Secretariat, which includes practical steps in this direction. The Work Plan is not available to the public.

30 May 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.

2 June 2023

Turkmenistan has established a commission to develop a Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime for accession to the WTO. The corresponding decree was signed by President Serdar Berdimuhamedov. No other details pertaining to this commission have been shared.

8 June 2023

At the Astana International Forum, Turkmenistan shared its goals for joining the WTO and learned from the experience of Kazakhstan accession negotiations.

22 June 2023

On June 22, 2023, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) organized a training for Turkmenistan’s government officials, focusing on trade measures related to their accession to the WTO. The session, part of ongoing support since Turkmenistan’s 2022 WTO candidacy, covered non-tariff measures and modern trade themes like the circular economy. Participants included various government and private sector representatives. This initiative is part of UNECE’s broader effort to aid countries in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe in using trade for sustainable development.

18 September 2023

President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedov, taking part in the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, met with the Director General of the WTO Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. During the meeting, the parties discussed the current state and prospects for the development of cooperation.

2-6 October 2023

Virtual training sessions by three WTO Secretariat divisions (Market Access, Rules, and Accessions) as part of the second cluster of activities to assist Turkmenistan in preparing its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime. The topics covered include the policies affecting trade in goods (imports and export regulations).

23-27 October 2023

In-person technical working sessions on the preparation of relevant sections of the Memorandum delivered by the Accessions Division of the WTO inAshgabat. This is also part of the second cluster of activities to assist Turkmenistan to prepare the Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime.

25 October 2023

The EU and ITC signed an agreement “Turkmenistan-EU: Increasing the sustainability and integration of trade” at the Global Gateway Forum. The agreement marks the launch of a project – to be implemented by ITC and funded by the EU – to support the Government of Turkmenistan in acceding to the WTO. EU and ITC signed the agreement of €6 million under the bilateral Cooperation Facility (€11 million for 2021-2024), in the presence of the Turkmenistan Minister of Finance and Economy, Serdar Jorayev.

8 November 2023

Representatives of the WTO and the IMF held targeted lectures at the Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management. During the lecture, speakers from the WTO introduced those present to the history of the WTO, the basic principles, and the institutional structure of the WTO, and also spoke about the main prospects for further cooperation between the Organization and Turkmenistan.

27-30 November 2023

A four-day seminar on Turkmenistan’s accession to the WTO and trade protection measures was held in Ashgabat, organized by USAID’s Central Asia Trade Program and the Turkmen Ministry of Finance and Economy. The seminar, attended by specialists from various ministries and academia, covered WTO rules, trade liberalization, and domestic market protection, emphasizing the benefits of WTO membership for national economies and trade efficiency.

The USAID’s Trade Central Asia (TCA) initiative with a budget of 19 million USD, running from 2021 to 2026 and implemented by Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), focuses on reducing trade barriers in five Central Asian republics. It aims to simplify trade procedures in accordance with the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and to enhance private sector knowledge for increased cross-border trade. The project also encourages collaboration among business groups to boost trade and export awareness. TCA is active in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Kazakhstan.

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