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Key WTO panel endorses Vanuatu membership

Published on 02/05/2011

A key World Trade Organization panel on Monday endorsed Vanuatu's membership bid, paving the way for the Pacific island state's accession to the global free trade system, officials said.

A working party on Vanuatu, composed of interested WTO member states, wrapped up negotiations during a meeting in Geneva, 16 years after country applied.

The deal will now be submitted for formal approval by all 153 members at a special session of the organisation’s governing General Council at the end of May, a step that is usually a formality, a WTO spokeswoman added.

The terms then have to be ratified by Vanuatu’s parliament.

“There has been approval of accession by the working party which takes us into the final, final phase,” Lamy told journalists after the meeting, underlining the value of integrating one of the world’s least developed countries into the free trade system.

“It’s also a sign of confidence for the organisation at a time of turbulence for the WTO,” he added, referring to the ailing Doha round of talks on expanding free trade, which are meant to benefit developing nations.

Vanuatu trade minister Sela Molisa welcomed Monday’s step and said membership “will enhance our economy and contribute to the well being of our region.”

Vanuatu’s accession reached the same stage in 2001 but the tiny country asked for more time to consider the terms of its entry. The process was frozen until it was revived in 2008.