WTO Delay: Brace Yourself For Another Liberia Embarrassment

As if the Global Witness report of bribery amongst high-level members of the Liberian government is not enough, the post-war nation is now at risk of losing its membership in the World Trade Organization as the lower house stalls passage of protocol ratification.

ON DECEMBER 16, 2015, World Trade Center Ministers formally approved Liberia’s membership terms at a special ceremony held at the WTO’s Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. The decision meant that Liberia will have until June 15, 2016 to ratify its Protocol of Accession and officially become a WTO member 30 days after it notifies its acceptance to the WTO Director-General.

HERE’S WHAT AT stake for Liberia. Membership into the WTO means the Liberia immediately benefits from the WTO’s global system which lowers trade barriers through negotiation and applies the principle of non-discrimination resulting in reduced costs of production because imports used in production are cheaper; and reduced prices of finished goods and services, and ultimately a lower cost of living.

Under WTO rules, once a commitment has been made to liberalize a sector of trade, it is difficult to reverse. The rules also discourage a range of unwise policies. For businesses, that means greater certainty and clarity about trading conditions. For governments it can often mean good discipline.

IN ESSENCE, ONCE Liberia becomes a member, it will be nearly impossible for government to enforce business Polices out of fear of violating the WTO agreements.

IN ESSENCE, once Liberia is officially declared a WTO member, the prices consumers pay for food and clothing, necessities and luxuries, and everything else in between, will be affected by trade policies

REALIZING ALL this the Senate, which is the upper house of Liberia’s national legislature on April 21, 2016, passed into law an Act to Ratify the Protocol on the Accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for Liberia. The Act received a unanimous vote to successfully pass the Act which was sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF submitted to the Liberian Senate on February 5, 2016 the Protocol on (WTO) for possible ratification. Accordingly the communication was discussed by plenary of the Liberian Senate and in light of this, the secretary of the Liberian Senate was mandated to forward to the Joint committee on Foreign Affairs; Commerce, Trade and Industry and Judiciary, claims, Petition and Human Rights.

IN KEEPING WITH THE Senate rules, the joint committee held discussion on the expediency and feasible ratification of the protocol. Members of the joint committee deliberated and scrutinized the legislation. Among many things the committee pointed out that the Accession protocol contains Liberia’s commitment on domestic reform, that it entails the enhancement of Liberia business climate to provide a fair transparent and predictable business environment that fosters trade in competitive manner.

THE COMMITTEE SAID: “The members of the Joint committee, realizing that the ratification of this protocol will help enable the Government and people of Liberia to attain its Agenda for transformation; provides accessible and conducive business environment and will expose Liberia to fair and competitive foreign business and job opportunities. In view thereof, coupled with the immerse benefit Liberia as a nation and people stand to acquire by the ratification of this protocol and in accordance with Article 34(f) of the constitution of Liberia, Members of the Joint Committee is pleased to recommend to the plenary of the Liberian Senate to ratify the entitled instrument.”

Senator Jim Tornorlah chairman on the commerce committee said at the time of passage that the Act will bring relief to Liberia business sector. “This is a clear indication that Liberia stands in the rating process to be able to open the market sector to the World. It will also create job for Liberian. “I am rejoicing that the Senate was able to ratify this agreement. He differ with critics who believe that this has little benefits on Liberian, because according to him the Protocol built the Economy, provide jobs for Liberians.”

TO UNDERSTAND the implications of what is unfolding in the lower house of the National Legislature in Liberia, it is important to understand this: For the past ten years, Ethiopia has been struggling to become a WTO member to no avail; Algeria is also struggling to become a member while several other countries took a very long time to become members of the WTO.

CHIEDU OSAKWE, who heads the Office of Accession process at the WTO told FrontPageAfrica in April that there are currently 55 applications on the book as many countries are doing all they can to become WTO members. “We have concluded 36 working parties, 19 remains in progress. “The longest I think we have done is ten years, the average, some have done it quicker in the span of two years and nine months; China had fifteen, Russian Federation had 18, Kazakstan, basically, approximately 20. Algeria, not yet done – it’s in its 29th years. But I tell folks not to worry and not to be overly concerned with the lengths of time for ascension. Why not? Because it is a process of domestic reforms.”

THE PROCESS of domestic reform was instrumental in reaching Liberia this far but the process is now under threat because the lower house is dragging its feet. Because the WTO accession is a law, pressure has been on the Liberian legislature to ratify a protocol on the accession of Liberia. The legislature has up to June 15 to ratify the Protocol.

IN THE PAST FEW weeks however, many have been puzzled at the snail posture the lower house has been adopting on the protocol bill. The bill does not go into effect unless the lower concurs with the upper house’s decision.

THE PAINFUL REALITY is this: If Liberia misses the June 15 deadline, it would be not just a major but a catastrophic blow. The United States government, the European Union, particularly Sweden which has reportedly invested some US$7 million in the process will not take lightly, what is supposed to be the signal that Liberia is committed to a business climate that is transparent and predictable.

HOLDING UP three accompanying laws: The Foreign Trade  Laws, the Competition Laws and the Intellectual Property Laws in the Lower House sends the wrong message to the international community that Liberia is simply not ready to help itself.

NOT AFTER SOME US$90 million has been raised to support the WTO Enhanced Framework support to countries like Liberia; not when seven years of work is on the verge of being derailed by a legislative body that apparently is out of touch of the realities of the world and what this accession could mean for Liberia.

SIMPLY PUT, Liberia stands to miss on a lot of the support it is guaranteed as a full WTO member

WHAT IS EVEN MORE PAINFUL, is when FrontPageAfrica contacted

WHEN FRONTPAGEAFRICA CONTACTED Representative Charles Bardyl of District # 3 River Gee County, Chairman on Commerce & Industry in the Lower House, he could only say that the issue is being processed. When asked what does the process entails, he told FPA legislative reporter, arrogantly and angrily that “it is being processed.”

MULTIPLE SOURCES have informed FrontPageAfrica that Bardyl is strangulating the legislation and reportedly causing delays and playing all kinds of games.

WHATEVER that is interpreted to mean, Liberia has seen, heard and read a lot about brown envelops and holdouts by lawmakers for pay-outs before passage of legislations. We hope that this is not the case here. But it simply makes no sense why members of the lower house would delay the passage of such an important bill with just 15 days to the deadline.

REPRESENTATIVE BARDYL and his committee should be dissolved and House Speaker Tyler booted from his position if this issue turns out to be yet another embarrassment for Liberia. We have had a lot of those in recent weeks, we really do not need yet another one. 

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