The reasons for the 27-year delay in membership in the World Trade Organization...

The reasons for the 27-year delay in membership in the World Trade Organization...

President Ilham Aliyev met with World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on June 6, 2024, to discuss potential cooperation between Azerbaijan and the international trade body. This high-level meeting was accompanied by a similar discussion between Minister of Economy Mikayil Jabbarov and Okonjo-Iweala. Jabbarov later noted on social media that the talks included discussions about Azerbaijan's ongoing efforts to diversify its economy, enhance trade relations, and attract investments.

Azerbaijan first announced its intention to join the WTO in 1997. However, despite prolonged negotiations, membership has remained elusive for 27 years. In a 2019 interview, President Aliyev cited ongoing negotiations with the European Union (EU) as a factor in the delay. He highlighted trade-related issues as a significant point of contention, noting that the timing was not right for Azerbaijan to join the WTO due to its heavy reliance on oil and gas exports.

Aliyev emphasized the need to develop the non-oil sector and protect the domestic market. "If we become members of the World Trade Organization now, our producers, including those in the industrial and agricultural sectors, may face significant challenges. A large influx of imported products could harm local production," he stated.

Rufat Guliyev, a member of the Milli Majlis Committee on Economic Policy, Industry, and Entrepreneurship, in an interview with Turan, echoed this sentiment, pointing out that joining the WTO requires the signing of about 40 documents. These agreements could open the market to cheap foreign goods, potentially putting pressure on domestic industries. Guliyev stressed that while WTO membership offers benefits such as increased export opportunities and improved trade standards, the risks must be carefully managed.

Economist Togrul Valiyev offered a different perspective. In an interview with Radio Azadlig, he suggested that the prolonged discussions and delays indicate a lack of political will to join the WTO. Valiyev argued that the government's reluctance is driven by concerns that WTO membership would necessitate lowering customs duties and opening the market, which could harm the local economy. "If we become a member, imported goods will become much cheaper, and the local market, which already struggles, will suffer," he said.

Valiyev pointed out that Azerbaijan's economy relies heavily on oil and gas sales, which do not require WTO membership. "If our economy were not dependent on oil and gas, we would likely have joined the WTO long ago," he added.

As Azerbaijan continues to weigh the benefits and risks of WTO membership, the country's leadership remains cautious. The government is focused on strengthening the domestic market and preparing the economy for potential membership. This careful approach reflects a broader strategy to ensure that the advantages of joining the WTO outweigh the potential drawbacks.

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