GENEVA (Reuters) - The 160-member World Trade Organization is in active discussions with 10 countries aiming to become members, including Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said in a report on Tuesday.
Seychelles is set to take the 161st spot, since its membership is sewn up and only needs domestic ratification. But several bigger countries are queuing up, led by Kazakhstan.
“The accession negotiations of Kazakhstan are at an advanced stage of maturity and on the threshold of conclusion, as soon as the remaining decisions are taken,” Azevedo said.
“On current pace, I believe that the stage should be set for a formal decision by the General Council early in the new year.”
Afghanistan could follow, having got a draft deal agreed in March. However, the final deal still requires “appropriate signaling from Kabul”, which had postponed a final meeting to seal the deal, the director general said.
“This accession is queued up for conclusion,” he wrote.
“At present, based on internal Secretariat assessments, possible opportunities for progress exist in the accessions negotiations for Algeria, the Bahamas, Belarus and Serbia.”
Another hopeful is Liberia, which wants to complete its membership in 2015.
To join, candidate countries have to offer to cut tariffs and change their laws to guarantee the rights of importers and exporters under WTO rules.
Azevedo has asked WTO members to “exercise maximum restraint” in negotiations with Liberia, one of the world’s poorest countries and a casualty of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic.
Further down the line, Ethiopia and Iran are both making domestic preparations to re-engage with the WTO, while Iraq established a permanent trade office in Geneva last month to work exclusively on WTO accession, Azevedo said.
Azevedo’s report was published on the eve of a historic breakthrough for the WTO, with the first global trade deal in its history set to be approved at a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday.
“WTO membership retains an ineluctable pull for governments still outside our doors for a combination of cited reasons. The WTO is seen both as an economic institution and a citadel for the rule of law,” he wrote.
New members’ trade grew by 12.4 percent annually between 1994 and 2013, almost double the 6.7 percent average growth of the members who were part of the WTO at its birth in 1995, the report said.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan