Decision on whether to join WTO or not after recommendation from agencies

The Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, admitted that the question on whether to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) or not was one of outstanding issues that the government had to take and the cabinet would decide it upon the Foreign Ministry’s recommendation.

Lyonchhen said that the Foreign Ministry was spearheading the coordination among all stakeholders and would make the recommendations to the government. The cabinet will also hear views from experts both against and for the matter without preconceived ideas. “The government’s responsibility is to take a decision in the best interest of our country and our people, not just now but in the future.”

The Minister of Economic Affairs, Norbu Wangchuk, who attended the WTO’s ninth ministerial conference at Bali in 2013 as an observer, added the decision-making would be done after a careful consideration of both advantages and disadvantages.

Opinions have been divided over the issue since Bhutan was granted an observer status and the first working party on accession was established in October 1999. The country almost acceded to WTO in 2009, but the process was not be finished. One primary reason cited was that the WTO agreements contradicted the Bhutan’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

The benefits of joining WTO according to those for it are to gain market access and to bridge the credibility gap, as well as it makes easier to settle disputes among the member states, whereby small countries are able to have their stance equivalent to larger countries. The argument is also that since Bhutan is already in a free trade agreement with it largest trading partner India entering the WTO would have no major adverse impact. Another for argument has been that it would provide Bhutan with various trade protections and also access to some grant to help strengthen its trade system.

Opponents say small countries like Bhutan with poor resources will not enjoy those benefits much. Some also argue the benefits of free trade mostly accumulate to the developed countries. Further, the organization is criticized for ignoring situations in the developing world.  The say free trade may prevent developing countries from expanding their own industries as they may not be able to put tariff protection after joining WTO. Set in 1995, WTO deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably, and as freely as possible. Over the past 60 years, WTO and its predecessor organization the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) have helped to create a strong and prosperous international trading system, thereby, contributing to unprecedented global economic growth.

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