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Ethiopia not ready for WTO liberalisation steps

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia is not ready to bow to pressure to liberalise its telecoms and banking sectors while negotiating terms to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), its trade minister said on Wednesday.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi addresses the media inside his office in the capital Addis Ababa September 16, 2009. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova

Analysts say the giant Horn of Africa country’s hopes for WTO membership hinge on calls for the authorities in Addis Ababa to open those areas to international competition.

“There is a demand from some WTO member countries for Ethiopia to liberalise some of our service sectors and it will be subject to discussion in future negotiations,” Trade Minister Girma Birru told Reuters in an interview.

“But from what we see now, we are not convinced it will be appropriate for our own economic policies to liberalise at this stage.”

Girma said his ministry was answering questions about the Ethiopian economy from WTO members. U.S. officials have publicly said the nation should liberalise those sectors.

The country is one of Africa’s largest potential markets -- with a population of about 80 million -- and most of its people have no telephones or bank accounts.

It 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.

Opposition parties, however, dispute those statistics.

The country remains one of the world’s poorest and it has suffered high inflation, power cuts and a shortage of foreign currency this year.

Girma said Ethiopia’s economic growth rate was the best argument against liberalisation.

“The policies we have in place prove themselves. They mean sustainable growth,” he said. “If liberalisation is not done in the right way and at the right time it will harm us.”

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former Marxist rebel, told Reuters in an interview in July that he hoped negotiations to join the WTO will be finished within three years and admitted that competition may be inevitable.