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Alicia Nicholls

World Trade Organization (WTO) Members have agreed to establish a working party for the accession of the Dutch Caribbean dependency of Curacao to the 164-member organization. This decision was made at the latest meeting of the WTO’s General Council – the WTO’s highest decision-making body in Geneva – when it met on March 3-4, 2020.

Under the WTO Agreement, any State or separate customs territory “possessing full autonomy in the conduct of its external commercial relations and of the other matters provided for in this Agreement and the Multilateral Trade Agreements” may accede to the WTO on terms to be agreed between it and the WTO.

Constitutionally, Curacao is a constituent country and separate customs territory within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is part of the original membership of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and later the WTO. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has supported Curacao’s bid for WTO membership as a separate customs union and placed Curacao’s request on the General Council’s agenda.

Curacao’s application for accession, which was made in October 2019, will make it among several accessions to the WTO currently on-going. According to the WTO Accessions 2019 Annual Report by the Director-General which was one of the meeting agenda items, “at the end of the year, out of the 22 ongoing accessions, 14 were considered as active, continuing their engagement with Members and/or the Secretariat”.

With regard to The Bahamas, the only independent Caribbean country which is not yet a WTO Member, the Accessions Report 2019 noted that “the accession Working Party of The Bahamas met once and was very active until Hurricane Dorian made landfall in September, becoming the worst natural disaster in the country’s history”. The Bahamas’ accession to the WTO remains a point of contention in the country as there remains strong opposition against joining the multilateral trading body.

Other items were discussed at the meeting which would be of interest to the Caribbean. Two Caribbean WTO representatives, Mr. Stephen Fevrier of the Permanent Mission of the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to Geneva and H.E. Mr. Chad Blackman, Ambassador of Barbados to Geneva are among the new chairpersons for WTO bodies.

The US has resubmitted documents – a working paper and a draft General Council decision – in support of its bid to bring out changes to the way the WTO allows eligibility for special and differential treatment. The US delegation also submitted a draft General Council decision on “The Importance of Market-oriented conditions to the World Trading System”.

The documents from the General Council Meeting may be accessed via the WTO’s documents portal.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed herein are her personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of any institution or entity with which she may be affiliated from time to time.