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Zmokhol and Abu-Ghazaleh to Accelerate Lebanon’s Accession to the World Trade Organization

20-Feb-2014 | Source : AG-IP News | Visits : 6618
Special to ag-IP-news Agency

BEIRUT - The Lebanese Businessmen Association, chaired by Dr. Fouad Zmokhol, organized a roundtable entitled “When will Lebanon Join the World Trade Organization?” and attended by HE Dr. Talal Abu- Ghazaleh, chairman of Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization (TAG-Org) and member of the WTO Panel on defining the future of trade.

The roundtable was also attended by former ministers Jean Oghassabian and Dr. Adel Cortas, Dr. Shadi Karam, the Adviser to HE the President of the Republic of Lebanon, Board members of the Association and members of the Association.

Dr. Zmokhol said: “Trade openness is an option based on the need for peace and freedom that emerged after World War II, and on the belief that free trade enables optimal supply of goods and services and therefore creates a strong and robust economic growth”. He indicated that the World Trade Organization does not aim at free and irresponsible trade but rather at trade openness associated with the rules and assistance necessary to improve and develop the economy”.

He added “I have been holding workshops on Lebanon’s accession to the WTO for several years, but unfortunately we are still away from completing the bilateral negotiations on goods and services within the same framework.”

He explained the advantages that WTO may provide to Lebanon, showing that WTO is subject to a set of agreements most of which were negotiated during Uruguay Round. These agreements constitute a set of rules that any member can use to highlight its rights and that can be interpreted in a coordinated and organized manner in order to anticipate the commercial conduct of others.

He assured that Lebanon can take advantage of Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) provisions which include wider distribution of trade advantages amongst partners, saying “this provision actually guarantees that the benefit granted by a WTO member to one of its partners shall immediately extend to all other members. Accordingly, this principle promotes non-discrimination amongst trade partners, as it really boosts trade exchange in an ideal competitive environment.”

He indicated that “WTO is the only multilateral international organization with a binding enforcement body: dispute settlement mechanism. The complexity of trade exchange is associated with the number of disputes to be settled. History is replete with examples of the trade disputes that escalated to mere conflicts”, stressing that “dispute settlement system of WTO is a methodological, binding and neutral tool that aims at finding realistic solutions with high degree of sovereignty or high economic bid”.

He explained that decisions in WTO are taken by consensus, saying that: “It is true that voting is possible but rarely used, which ensures that the interests of small countries in terms of trade – such as Lebanon – are not hidden. Lebanon will indeed be able, immediately after accession, to participate in negotiations and thereby promote its own interests.”

He assured that “the WTO represents a real motivation for legislative and sectorial reform”, indicating that “many preconditions for WTO membership – such as standards, public health and intellectual property protection – are in fact reforms that are in the interest of any country when applied – whether it is a WTO member or not”.

He said: “All these advantages strongly justify the efforts that are still necessary for Lebanon to join the WTO”.

Dr. Zmokhol highlighted the conditions for Lebanon’s complete accession to the WTO, stating: “Lebanon has already decided to get involved in the dynamics of trade liberalization at the bilateral and multilateral levels. Therefore, it is important for Lebanon to accelerate joining the WTO in order to take advantage of the positive externalities as soon as possible, such as the effects of attracting foreign direct investment into Lebanon. In addition, the media sector is to take advantage of improving Intellectual Property protection”.

He added: “Negotiations are underway to join the WTO in an active and collaborative manner since it requires trade liberalization that is adaptable to national economy features. As membership conditions are negotiated on basis of prior knowledge, they can be easily adaptable to the characteristics of any given economy. We should not forget the role that is supposed to be played by the national sectorial policies in supporting economy in order to join the WTO”.

He also stressed that “in order to accelerate accession to the WTO, Lebanon should promote political participation and prove credibility of its efforts to create a legislative framework to respect its obligations resulting from WTO membership. In this context, Lebanon should prioritize the preparation and implementation of a WTO legislative action plan which allows ratification of certain basic laws by the Parliament prior to accession such as: amending Article 25 of the Investment Rights Law, Geographical Data Law, Industrial Design Law, Trademarks Law and Unfair Competition Law,” and said: “In 2007, the Cabinet approved all those draft laws which are still waiting the approval of the Parliament”.

Dr. Zmokhol recalled the Public Law of Food approved by the Cabinet in 2006, the International Trade and Licensing Law, Animal Quarantine Law approved by the Cabinet in 2003, as well as the Metrology and Technical Regulations Law and Standardization Law, which were all submitted to the Cabinet in June 2009 for approval. He said: “The importance of consultation and engaging all Lebanese stakeholders in formulating Lebanon’s positions regarding future obligations within the WTO should be highlighted.  The continuous dialogue with the civil society is significant especially in the sectors, as different interested parties expressed concerns over the potential impact of Lebanon’s accession to the WTO.”

He also stated that “in fact, Lebanon has chosen to get involved in the dynamics of trade liberalization, so it is important for it now to join the only international organization that respects the rules of free trade. Since 1999, Lebanon has provided good technical work in the bilateral and multilateral negotiations within WTO working groups. However, Lebanon’s accession to the WTO is subject to a favorable political process and a ministerial declaration of a new government formation.”

HE Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh

HE Dr. Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, member of the WTO Panel on Defining the Future of Trade, delivered a speech in which he stressed that “Despite the many disadvantages in the WTO, Lebanon’s option to join it is still the best option due to the ample opportunities it offers for members”.

HE Dr. Abu-Ghazaleh considered that “the private sector is the first party concerned with the accession negotiations on favorable conditions, while the government plays the role of the patron in this regard. The private sector is the sole decision maker and governments should implement its desires as it is the primary interested party”. He added: “Therefore, the process should start here at the private sector rather than at the government, and a trade team should be formed to work on the initiative of WTO accession”.

HE Dr. Abu- Ghazaleh warned of Lebanon’s delay in accession, saying: “The more Lebanon delays accession, the more difficult the conditions become and the more losses are incurred. Accordingly, Lebanon should not remain out of this organization in spite of all obstacles given the ample opportunities it offers.”

HE Dr. Abu-Ghazaleh revealed a ministerial meeting in the Arab League to be held in February in Cairo to discuss the issue of the Arab states that have not joined WTO yet. He also talked about suggesting a solution he developed to be discussed in this meeting, expressing his hope that such a solution will be adopted.

He also referred to “the importance of the Internet which did not exist upon the establishment of the WTO, and which became a key element of knowledge products,” saying that “I therefore requested to include the digital economy within the WTO as the largest business company now is Google which deals with knowledge goods while the WTO principles do not apply to this company”.

HE Dr. Abu- Ghazaleh reiterated that “We should be a part of the WTO, and the private sector should engage in lobbying activities in order to achieve the goal of WTO accession”. He also thanked Dr. Zmokhol, for this meeting with elite of businessmen and economists.

A general discussion was held with the participants of the roundtable.
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