Ministers formally approved the WTO membership terms of Comoros and Timor-Leste at a special ceremony held at the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

The respective governments said the ceremony marked a historic day for both least-developed countries (LDCs) and a significant step in their quest to accelerate economic and political reforms.

Trade ministers unanimously welcomed both WTO membership deals, which were approved at the MC13 opening ceremony attended by President Azali Assoumani of Comoros and President José Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste.

UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade and MC13 Chair Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi and Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also attended the ceremony. The two Protocols of Accession were officially signed at the end of the ceremony.

In her address to ministers, DG Okonjo-Iweala paid special tribute to the governments of both countries for “this historic achievement” and for having undertaken an extensive programme of domestic reforms to accelerate economic growth despite very challenging circumstances.

She said: “I am delighted to say that we are kicking off this meeting with some excellent news. Here at MC13, the WTO is welcoming its first new members in almost eight years: Timor-Leste and Comoros. We celebrate the hard work they have put in, and the beneficial but challenging reforms they have implemented at home. Both countries are least developed countries, and we are excited to see them reap the gains of membership as they become new members of the WTO.”.

Twenty-two more countries are seeking to follow in their footsteps — many of them were present in Abu Dhabi, including a sizeable contingent from the Arab world. Comoros and Timor-Leste will bring the total number of WTO members to 166. “We look forward to adding to that number in the years ahead,” said Director-General Okonjo-Iweala.

President Assoumani said: “Comoros’ accession to the WTO will be immensely beneficial for our entire economy, for public and private enterprises, and for consumers. It will contribute to our country’s trade diversification and partnership efforts, to its integration into regional, continental and global value chains. Through WTO accession, my country will achieve its objectives.”.

President Ramos-Horta said: “Being a WTO member is essential to unleash the potential of our economy in several sectors. We are committed to diversify our economy, become a part of the value chain of the global economy and to improve the life of our people through trade.”

Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi said: “The decisions we have just taken on the accession of Comoros — an island LDC in Africa — and the accession of Timor-Leste — an island LDC in Asia — testify to the world’s confidence in the WTO and the multilateral trading system. I strongly believe that through their future membership in the WTO, Comoros and Timor-Leste will have stable and predictable frameworks for economic engagement with other nations which will boost trade, growth and prosperity.”

Both governments will now submit their Protocols for ratification by their legislative assemblies. In keeping with WTO rules, Comoros and Timor-Leste will become members of the WTO 30 days following the deposit of the respective instruments of acceptance of the Protocol.

Comoros’ Working Party was established on 09 October 2007. Members of the Working Party concluded the negotiations on 09 January 2024.

Timor-Leste’s Working Party was established on 07 December 2016. Members of the Working Party concluded the negotiations on 11 January 2024.