After 11 years of negotiations, Tajikistan is set to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) within the next few months.
President Emomali Rakhmon was in Geneva on Monday to sign a package of membership agreements that commit Dushanbe to opening its markets and standardizing import tariffs. Tajikistan’s rubberstamp parliament must ratify membership by June 7, 2013. The country will become a WTO member 30 days after ratification, making it the trade body’s 159th member.
“Today constitutes a landmark in Tajikistan's history and lays solid foundations for further promotion of sustainable social and economic growth,” Rakhmon said at the signing ceremony. “Tajikistan will use its WTO membership as a means of fostering future economic growth and prosperity.”
According to the WTO, Tajikistan ranks 143 globally in exports of goods (approximately $2 billion in 2010) and 140 ($2.7 billion) in imports, and trades primarily with China, the EU, Russia, other Central Asian countries, and Turkey.
In Dushanbe, one analyst affiliated with the president’s office hailed accession. By forcing Tajikistan to modernize its legislation, membership will help attract international investors, Saifullo Safarov, deputy director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President, told Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
But a Russian analyst said Dushanbe has sought membership out of its desire for prestige, rather than economic interests.
Speaking with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Aziz Niyazi, a senior fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted Kyrgyzstan’s mixed experiences since becoming the first Central Asian country to join the WTO, back in 1998.
"In the WTO one has to play by the rules of rich countries. Should Tajikistan join the organization? The example of Kyrgyzstan, which was the first post-Soviet country to join the WTO, does not leave much optimism. The country is packed with cheap, low-quality Chinese products, and has a difficult time selling its own [products]. In these countries, the WTO does not provide economic benefits, but can worsen the economic situation," Niyazi said. He added that Russia, which joined in August, had also rushed membership.
Niyazi said Tajikistan would benefit more from membership in the Moscow-led Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Tajikistan, along with Kyrgyzstan, has expressed interest in the Customs Union, which formally started in 2010. That trade body would likely do more for Tajikistan in the short-term (such as guarantee duty-free imports of Russian fuel products, which Moscow has periodically jacked up when it’s sought political concessions from Dushanbe). But with Russia’s own accession, membership in the two groups is not necessarily incompatible.
After Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan will be the second Central Asian nation to join the WTO. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also seeking membership.