Reuters: By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia said on Tuesday it expected to gain entry to the World Trade Organization soon without giving way to foreign demands that it open up its banking and telecoms sectors.
Analysts say the Horn of Africa country’s hopes for WTO membership hinge on calls for Addis Ababa to open those areas to international competition, in a country where most people have no telephone or bank accounts.
U.S. officials have publicly asked Ethiopia to liberalise both sectors, seen as a stumbling block to Ethiopia’s efforts for accession to the WTO since 2003 — which could help boost investor confidence, enticing foreign cash and know-how.
The country of 80 million people is among the world’s poorest and one of its largest recipients of foreign aid. It is scheduled to hold its second working party meetings, a major foundation for prospective membership in May.
But Ethiopia is attracting growing interest from foreign investors in agriculture, hydropower, and oil and gas exploration, and has recorded growth of more than 10 percent for the last five years.
“WTO membership obviously has its benefits, but we believe surrendering our sensitive areas such as banking and telecommunications will harm our national interests,” State Minister for Trade Yacob Yalla told Reuters.
“We are confident that our accession will be finalised soon, and we expect them to respect our sensitivities in that process,” he said.
Speaking at a workshop organised to share experience with Cambodia and Yemen, Yacob lamented the “cumbersome and time-consuming” process for accession, and said his country seeks to move directly towards bilateral negotiations after May.
Bids to join the WTO take anywhere between three to 15 years, according to the organisation, and some countries such as Yemen have held up to eight working party meetings before proceeding to bilateral discussions with trade partners.
Ethiopia has suffered high inflation, power cuts and a shortage of foreign currency in recent years.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former Marxist rebel, said in 2009 that he hoped negotiations would be finished within three years and said competition may be inevitable.
Meles has said Ethiopia may not need any food aid within five years thanks to an ambitious development plan that targets an average economic growth of 14.9 percent over the period.
Addis Ababa has posted high economic growth figures over the past five years, averaging about 11 percent, according to government figures. Opposition parties have disputed the accuracy of the country’s growth statistics.