| GENEVA, June 7
GENEVA, June 7 Laos has cleared the last major
hurdle in its 15-year quest for membership of the World Trade
Organization and could finalise entry terms by the end of the
year, according to internal documents seen by Reuters on
Laos is on the home straight to membership after reaching
agreement with Ukraine, the last WTO member to consent. Under
WTO rules, every existing member has the right to demand
improved terms of trade from candidate countries before letting
them into the global trading club.
Ukraine is still holding out on terms for Yemen, causing
concern among other members who have asked for an update when
the WTO gathers for its General Council meeting in July.
Their difficulties with Ukraine prompted Laos and Yemen to
call for help earlier this year, triggering an unprecedented
process in which senior diplomats intervened in the bilateral
negotiations to try to smooth the way.
Yemen and Laos are both designated "least developed
countries" (LDCs) by the WTO, which means existing members are
expected to give them a relatively easy ride and not to ask them
to lower their trade barriers.
Laos applied to to join the WTO in July 1997 while Yemen
applied just over 12 years ago.
Ukraine's hardball demands had mystified trade diplomats at
the WTO, some of whom said Ukraine was becoming the new "bad
boy" of the global trading club.
Laos signed an "in principle" agreement after talks in Kiev,
according to a note welcoming the development, which was sent to
the General Council by six WTO members and eight country groups,
including the European Union and the United States.
China's ambassador to the WTO, Yi Xiaozhun, who is chairing
the WTO working party on Laos, said earlier this year that the
process was at the "end-game stage".
He said the working party could sign off on Laos' membership
terms in September or October, after which they would just need
formal adoption by a plenary meeting of the WTO and ratification
by Laos itself.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Tim Pearce)