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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Cambodia and Nepal win WTO entry

By Andrew Walker
BBC economics correspondent in Cancun

Traditional Budhist monks in Cambodia
Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries
The World Trade Organisation has agreed to admit Cambodia and Nepal as members.

When the remaining legal procedures are completed they will be the first countries classified as least developed to join the organisation since it was founded in 1995.

The decision was taken by WTO member countries' ministers at a meeting in Cancun in Mexico.

The package of concessions and commitments that we have to accept certainly goes far beyond what is commensurate with the level of development of a least developed country
Cham Prasidh, Cambodian commerce minister
The terms of Cambodia's accession have proved particularly controversial.

A report by the Development Agency, Oxfam, says that Cambodia has made concessions that go far beyond what was made by least developed countries that were founder members of the organisation.

It was the result, Oxfam says, of pressure from existing WTO members.

Paying the price

In a speech to the meeting here, the Cambodian Commerce Minister, Cham Prasidh, said the Oxfam report does reflect the results of the negotiations, although he said he does not share all its views.

He said Cambodia paid a heavy price for national reconciliation and peace and now is paying another heavy price to join the WTO.

"We believe that the package of concessions and commitments that we have to accept certainly goes far beyond what is commensurate with the level of development of a least developed country like Cambodia," Mr Cham said.

The Oxfam report says that Cambodia has had to agree to reduce tariffs on farm products to levels well below the highest applied by the European Union or the United States.

It is also having to introduce patent protection on medicines many years earlier than other least developed countries.

None the less, Mr Prasidh said the commitments are not beyond Cambodia's reach.

He said he accepts the challenge because Cambodia sees the benefits of joining the world trading system.

Cambodia and Nepal now have to ratify their accession agreements. Their membership is likely to take effect next year.


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