Thukten Zangpo

The government has approved the country’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The decision was announced by Minister of Industry, Commerce and Employment, Karma Dorji.

Lyonpo said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade will write to the WTO soon to express Bhutan’s intent to join the organisation.

Bhutan is currently a least developed country (LDC), and it has until December 2023 to graduate from this status. If Bhutan does not join the WTO before it graduates from LDC status, it will lose out on certain benefits, such as special and differential treatment provisions.

The WTO agreements contain special provisions which give developing countries special rights and give developed countries the possibility to treat developing countries more favourably than other WTO members. The special provisions include longer periods for implementing agreements and commitments or measures to increase trading opportunities for developing countries.

Joining as LDC, Lyonpo said that Bhutan would be given three years to comply with WTO rules and standards and that it could also ask for an additional two years of extension.

Bhutan would also receive support and technical assistance from the WTO to help it meet these standards, he added.

Lyonpo also said that joining WTO would strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignty and give the country access to a wider market of 164 member countries.

He added that with a rule of trade which is followed by all member countries, there is standard and predictability. “With trust and confidence, member countries will have confidence to invest in foreign direct investments (FDI) and we want more FDIs.”

Currently, Bhutan Standards Bureau, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority, and Drug Regulatory Authority are not able to keep up with the WTO standards without their own labs and testing facilities.

To develop labs and testing facilities to meet these standards, the government has earmarked Nu 100 million in the 13th five-year plan.

Following the standards, Lyonpo said that the quality of exports will be improved including standards of local products. Bhutan will also import high-quality goods, he added.

However, Lyonpo said that Bhutan cannot ban the import of goods to favor domestic producers. 

The member country cannot impose tariffs on goods agreed upon earlier. Tariffs give a price advantage to locally-produced goods over similar goods which are imported, and they raise revenue for governments.

Lyonpo said that Bhutan cannot impose a tariff of 19 percent on import of industry products and not above 41 percent for agriculture-related goods.  

“If there is an absolute requirement for the ban, there is a provision where the country can inform the WTO with strong reason with advance notice before six to seven months,” Lyonpo said. 

He also said that the government will provide support by promoting agricultural products, building cold storage, dry ports with cold storage and logistics, multi-model transport, waterways, inland transport system, introduction of cargo flights by June this year, railway links in Gelephu and other parts of the country, and upcoming international airport in Gelephu that will be also used for cargo flights.