Algeria’s accession to the World Trade Organisation

by | Jan 18, 2017 |

Algeria’s accession to the World Trade Organisation

Algeria’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the face of domestic and international constraints

Per the official Algerian Customs statistics, in 2016, China is the leading provider of Algeria, with a market share of close to 18% and US$8.396 billion.  France comes second with $4.744 billion and a share of 10%, followed by Italy with $4.642 billion and 9.93%. Spain and Germany are respectively in the 4thand 5th position in this ranking, with $3.595 and $3.009 billion.  In the top 10, there are also Turkey (7th), Brazil (9th) and South Korea (10th).

If China is the big beneficiary of the explosion of the Algerian import bill, the deficit in trade between the two countries is huge between 2007 and 2016 all while official reviews were still focusing on Europe. Indeed, customers of Algeria are Italy with $4.779 billion and a market share of 16.55% of exports of the country. Spain comes second with $3.562 billion, followed by the United States ($3.227 billion) and France ($3.192 billion). Tunisia is 12th with $610 million, Morocco 13th with $589, Singapore 14th with $542 million and India 15th with $511 million closes this ranking.  For the 2016 official figures, exports declined to $28.88 against $34,66 billion in 2015, or a drop of 16.7%, non-oil exports fell to $2.063 billion in 2016 against $2.582 billion in 2015 (-20,1%).

Imports have also declined but at a lower rate to $46.72 billion in 2016 from $51.7 billion in 2015, down 9.62% giving a deficit in the balance of trade of about $18 billion, amount to which services and legal capital transfers are to be added; the balance of payments is the unique reference with between 2014 and 2016 as key partners of Algeria the countries of the European Union.  Also, as pointed out in my contributions and notably in my conference at the invitation of the European Parliament, and after some concern of the international community over the possible abandonment of the Agreement, Algerian officials were clear.  There is no question of breaking the Association Agreement which binds it to Europe.  Europe however, should consider Algeria not only from the point of view of a market.

Now with regards to the WTO, and according to the Algerian Press Service (APS), the Uruguayan Gustavo Miguel Vanerio Balbela has been appointed as of January 14, 2017, new Chairman of the Working Group for the accession of Algeria to the WTO in replacement of Alberto D’Alotto of Argentina, as per the last WTO newsletter.  Mr. Balbela was immediately invited from the Algerian Trade Minister, to visit Algiers and discuss the next steps of the Working Group, which had not met since March 2014.

We must remember that for more than 15 years, dozens of meetings took place and commissions created for Algeria’s accession to the WTO. All of the Algerian major economic players such as workers’ unions, employers’ federations, government representatives, and many experts were conveyed but so far in vain.

Algeria has since 1987 an observant status within the WTO organization and has been negotiating for more than 20 years thus achieving a world record. Looking at developing countries, such as heavyweight of Africa, Nigeria and South Africa, or small countries like Chad, Niger, Togo, Angola, Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, countries of the Maghreb, Morocco and Tunisia, the majority of the Arab oil countries of which the latest being Saudi Arabia not to mention the majority of the countries of South America including Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Cuba, in Asia with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Viet Nam, South Korea, and China, the latter having joined the WTO in 2001, without forgetting Turkey and Russia which joined the WTO in December 15, 2011.

With the WTO agreements, which are part of a global space concern only the economic component, are broadly outlined by the agreement linking Algeria since September 1, 2005 to Europe, as anchored in the Barcelona process, which is part of a regional space but do include political and cultural components.  These agreements have strategic implications for both economy and society: prohibition of the use of the “duality of prices” for natural resources; general elimination of quantitative restrictions on import and export trade; quality and health standards; environmental protection in the use of oil energy, environmental agreements conceived, outside the WTO but lately incorporated to the WTO when felt to be hampering the development of trade; measures concerning the freedom of movement of capital.  Intellectual property protection is an essential condition in order to fight against piracy and therefore the integration of the dominant informal sphere in Algeria which controls 40% of the money supply and more than 65% of the basic necessities.  In General, Algeria’s accession to the WTO would require opening of its borders and the increased specialization as prompted by globalization.  Indeed, both association to the European Union and that of accession to the WTO are based on the development of trade by putting in place the conditions for the gradual liberalisation of trade in goods, services and capital.  It then will be followed by Algeria proceeding with the dismantling of customs duties and taxes for industrial and manufactured products over a period of transition.

All State monopolies must be progressively adjusted in a way that there is no discrimination regarding the conditions of supply and marketing goods between nationals of the Member States. These agreements should turn the Algerian industries from the status of protected industries to industries completely open to international competition with the total removal of tariff and non-tariff obstacles. If Algeria’s WTO entry may have little impact on the oil market, already inserted in a global or regional logic (gas), it is different for all oil products that will be subject to international competition.

Thus, the duality of prices – measure by which a Government could keep domestic prices at levels lower than those determined by the international market forces and the export restrictions – can no longer be valid in a context of trade liberalization. One of the stumbling blocks in the negotiations, in addition to the importance of the informal sphere, is the duality of the gas price for units for export, which would distort international competition. In case of accession, oil products, mainly fuels, will no longer benefit from crude prices lower than the international price upstream. The Agreement emphasizes the opening to competition of the market for energy services as far as it concerns all activities, from exploration to the provision of the product to the consumer through the production and transport.

The environment is a prime area of cooperation, the aim being the preservation of the ecological balance, requiring to implement more and more stringent quality standards; Algeria would be committing to gradually implement the various recommendations of the charters on energy and the environment.  Being in a situation of mono-exporter does not warrant any acceptance; the main OPEC already being WTO member countries. So much more than Doha agreements, a transition period to avoid the wild tariff dismantling that could adversely affect the Algerian infant Industries would be necessary. Indeed, it has made clear that the main resolutions of the fourth Ministerial Conference, held in Doha in November 2001, examined the problems facing developing countries to implement the current WTO agreements, i.e. the agreements of the Uruguay Round of negotiations. The decision on implementation has focused on the following: exception in respect of the balance of payments and clarification of the less stringent conditions set out in the GATT.

This is applicable to developing countries if they restrict their imports to protect their balance of payments. Then a commitment in terms of access to markets, longer periods are granted to developing countries to enable them to adapt to new SPS in other countries. Then technical assistance to those countries least developed and review of technical assistance, including the transfer of technology to least developed countries would be provided. The terms of a special provision concerning developing countries, which recognizes that developed countries must take specifically into account the situation of developing countries when considering to apply anti-dumping measures; the extension of the deadline for developing countries to implement the agreement; development of a method to determine which developing countries fulfil the criterion according to which their GNP per capita must be less than $1.000 so they can grant subsidies contingent upon export.

New rules allowing developing countries to provide grants under programs that aim “legitimate development objectives”, but without giving rise to a countervailing action; and finally, the review of the provisions on investigations countervailing.

Not wanting to unnecessarily dwell on the notion of license according to the rules of the WTO to avoid sterile debates, I would in this context, like to request an answer as to what came about that decision of the Council of Ministers dated December 30, 2014 and thereafter the law passed for the return import licenses in Algeria?

The answer will be that these licenses should fit in the context of respect for all international commitments of Algeria.  The information I gathered however from the Algerian Government, provide the following details :

The freedom of trade and industry is the foundation of economic and trade policy of the Government of Algeria, consecrated by all the provisions of Algerian law.

In this context, this legislation as provided by several countries with open economy in Europe and elsewhere, the possibility of using in specific and predefined cases, a certain transition period, in order to upgrade their productive apparatuses, to import or export licenses neutral in application and administered in a fair and equitable way, so as to handle exceptions to this freedom to trade and this in accordance with the rules of the WTO.

It is in this context that the law that was passed, should first reaffirm the freedom of import and export of products, without prejudice to the rules relating to public morality, security and public order, the protection of the health of the people, as well as to the preservation of the environment and the historical and cultural heritage.

The reasons for implementation of licenses of import or export of which, those with the only objective to limit the trade of certain exhaustible natural resources, the guarantee for the national availability of locally produced raw material processing industry, the supply of the market in products on which would be felt a shortage, as well as backup outside the country financial equilibria.

It is in this framework that the Government introduced a 03-04 amendment of July 19, 2003 to the general rules applicable to operations of import and export of goods, the amendments aimed to upgrade the legislation in accordance with the rules of an open economy. In contrast to the restrictive licensing regime previously applied to imports, these licenses are defined as administrative procedures in the rules of the WTO and are aimed to ensure better quality and product safety as well as secure human, animal and plant health.

Reference to the WTO rules, texts of which clearly state that import licences are administrative procedures requiring, as a condition to the importation of goods, the presentation to the administrative body of a request that is separate from the documents required for customs purposes; the Government states that this kind of license does not mean restriction or distortion of imports.

Control undertaken by the administration is concerned only by those aspects of quality and compliance and not by the commercial aspects, to ensure fairness in commercial transactions, including between the community of traders themselves or between the retailer and the consumer whereas the former regime had for purpose the distribution in the amount of foreign currency to importers.

Also, it has never been said that Algeria would not adhere to the WTO as adopted by the successive governments since 1995, but that accession cannot be at the expense of the interests of Algeria’s which would be seeking to benefit from the Doha agreements that provide for a transitional period for countries such as Algeria.

Also, Algeria, per our sources, whilst safeguarding its interests as any country, intends to comply with international agreements, notably that agreement of association with Europe, the negotiations with the WTO, which it is not to call into question, is no issue to discredit the image of Algeria at the international level, unlike certain tendentious statements.

From my point of view the debate is elsewhere and is about how, with the fall in the prices of hydrocarbons, to deepen all structural reforms for a strategy leading out of the rentier type economy and how can we put aside any tensions between Europe and Algeria relating to the association agreement.

Agreement signed in full sovereignty by the Government and with fundamental implications. Certainly, the concerns being legitimate because tariff cuts are a shortfall ranging between $1.5 and $2 billion annually for Algeria.

Invoking the situation of a mono-exporter would not help, for there will not be any specificity for Algeria alone and per our information from the EU, no renegotiations of the basic clauses with Europe from 2020 onwards.  An extension of time limits for certain products per the terms of the agreement.  Similarly, there will not be any specificity also for accession to the WTO.

Membership or not to the WTO would greatly depend on internal political forces rapport and especially a real desire for clarification of the future path of the controlled liberalisation of the Algerian economy not only for its efficiency that should be coupled with a deep social justice through a better and equitable spread of the national income and therefore put up an effective fight against corruption.

This is not a question about legislation but rather of social practice referring to the urgency of a renewed governance model. All these constraints imposed by both the association and accession to WTO agreements, could not they secure the Algerian economy into the world economy and act as an important pull factor in economic development and social progress?

Legal instability and the lack of visibility in the socio-economic policy, the dominance of the informal sphere and a financial system that is totally disconnected from the international financial system tend to worsen the growing pessimism about a political opening in fact real economic and political reforms which explains the successive downgrades between 2007/2014 of many international organizations.

Is it that the new Algerian economic policy must better articulate the market forces and the action of the State as a regulator in its role of macroeconomic management and macro social within a space balanced and solidarity, the challenge being the massive arrival on the job market of millions of young people within the next two decades.

The question that arises then is the possibility of change in growth to achieve a double objective, today apparently contradictory: on the one hand, create the necessary jobs, on the other hand, improve international competitiveness while distributing more revenue, including through the productivity of factors.

The current productive structure makes growth volatile and subject to external shocks, the financial resources, the importance of foreign reserves is not synonymous with development. The external position of Algeria remains dominated by the weakness inherent to its specialization in hydrocarbons, (weak production and non-hydrocarbon exports less than 4% of the total so marginal and within these 4% semi-finished ferrous and semi-ferrous representing more than 60%), having no control over its own external accounts, which depend only on the price oil/gas and the exchange rate of the Dollar, GDP per capita moving chaotically.

Having a natural wealth that is ephemeral, Algeria must at the same time preserve this resource for future generations and gradually find different revenue sources. It follows that the levels of growth necessary to result in a significant improvement in the situation, estimated at 8 / 9% per year until 2017/2020/2025, seem difficult to achieve in the short term.  In the meantime, its association agreement of free trade with the European Union (EU), Algeria incurred a shortfall in customs duties that was valued for year 2016, at $1.27 billion and in 2015 at $1.09 billion.

To benefit from the positive effects of the agreement with Europe to a possible WTO membership, would require us to undertake first some cleaning in the Algerian economy and that they are obstacles to the comprehensive reform of the result of displacement of the segments to be able to which explains the dieback of the productive fabric that any operational analysis will have to connect the advanced or the brake reforms by analysing the different social forces, public policy strategies located fluttered between two conflicting social forces, rentier logic supported by proponents of importation (of the monopolists and not shopkeepers, actually only 100 controlling more than 80% of the total) and unfortunately dominant informal sphere, and minority entrepreneurial logic.

This explains, Algeria is in this interminable transition since 1986, not a market economy, nor an economy administered, explaining the difficulties of regulations, the progress of reforms being inversely proportional over the oil and the value of the Dollar, the reforms since 1986 being blocked or timidly with inconsistency when the price rises.

In summary, Algeria’s accession to the World Trade Organization is irreversible if it wants to avoid its marginalization, benefitting from both the Doha agreements and from the success stories of Russia and Saudi Arabia whose economies mainly dependent on hydrocarbons.  The security aspect having been improved, Algeria must create favourable conditions for the development by raising the environmental constraints to enhance the vitality of local and international enterprise as sole source of permanent wealth creation, and its foundation on promoting knowledge and the adaptation of its economic strategy to the fourth economic revolution that is looming between 2020 and 2030.

Read more on the WTO website.

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