Lithuania plans to join WTO in October

  • 2000-08-31
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis & Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
VILNIUS - Lithuania is not a member of the World Trade Organization while Estonia and Latvia have already joined. Vilnius officials say that this delay is due to the tough negotiation stance of Lithuania, as well as of some of WTO members. The main sticking points in the negotiations are overtrade of agricultural products.

At any rate, Lithuania will join WTO soon, say Lithuanian officials.

"Estonia and Latvia joined WTO on unfavorable conditions. We want to negotiate better conditions. Anyway, Lithuania will join WTO in a year," said Rimantas Dagys, parliamentary deputy chairman.

Audronius Azubalis, chairman of the parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, was more precise and optimistic. "We hope to join WTO this coming October. We are not members of WTO like Estonia and Latvia yet because we are a big exporter of agricultural products. Agriculture makes up 9 percent of the Lithu-anian GDP. So WTO members demand a lot from Lithuania, and Lithuania demands a lot from WTO," Azubalis said.

Indeed, the toughest bilateral negotiations about Lithuanian membership in WTO are with those WTO countries that are big exporters of agricultural products themselves - the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Each country fights for the interests of their farmers.

Anyway, Lithuanian diplomats have concluded bilateral negotiations with their U.S. counterparts on Lithuanian accession to WTO and have agreed on the fundamental aspects of agricultural policy in larger international negotiations for membership.

"This was a successful round of negotiations we concluded with our main negotiating partner, the United States, and an important step in international negotiations," Algimantas Rimkunas, deputy Lithu-anian foreign minister and leader of the Lithu-anian negotiating team, told BNS.

Lithuania has reached preliminary agreements with four WTO members on membership - with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Bilateral negotiations have been concluded with the United States and Australia. The deputy foreign minister said an agreement with New Zealand would be forthcoming.

He said the hardest remaining negotiations are with Canada, that is demanding a significant reduction in imported pork tariffs.

"But we told them their terms are unacceptable. We are expecting their reply," Rimkunas said.

Currently, Lithuania levies a 40 percent tariff on imported Canadian pork. The Lithuanian diplomat expressed hope informal contacts with Canada would quickly iron out remaining wrinkles.

Latvia and Estonia have a set limit of state domestic support for agriculture - 5 percent of the value of annual agricultural production. If Lithuania's neighbors exceed that set limit, they have to consult with WTO on individual subsidies.

Lithuania extracted a higher domestic support limit for agriculture than Estonia and Latvia, according to Rimkunas. He didn't specify the size of allowable agricultural subsidies Lithu-ania had won.

Rimkunas expressed hope Lithuania could take part in WTO General Council meeting this October, where an official announcement on the conclusion of negotiations will be made. WTO membership is considered one of the most important pre-conditions for Lithuanian EU membership.

Should Lithuania become a WTO member, it will no longer need to make bilateral economic agreements with other WTO members.