New entrant

the doors of the World Trade Organization (wto) have been thrown open for Nepal. But not before the country staved off immense pressure from the North to join the International Union for Protection of New Varieties of Plants (upov). The upov is a global agreement that essentially protects the rights of multinational companies. Nepal now awaits formal approval for its entry into wto at the upcoming ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.

"We are confident that the wto membership will enhance our capability to be more competitive in trade through policy and legislative reforms,' stated Dinesh Pyakural, secretary of Nepal's ministry of industry, commerce and supplies (moics) and the country's chief negotiator. He was speaking after the adoption of the accession package on August 15, 2003.

Pyakural added that in the process of bilateral negotiations Nepal has bound the tariff rate at around 42 per cent in agricultural products and about 24 per cent in other goods. It has made pledges regarding 70 service sub-sectors, but without making unconditional commitments. It will open 37 professional services with conditions on equity participation and inclusion of more than 15 per cent local employees.

The most controversial aspect, however, was the attempt to force upov down Nepal's throat, pointed out Prachanda Man Shrestha, joint secretary, moics. Earlier in August, local non-governmental organisations (ngos) working on the issues of food security and farmers rights had urged Nepal's negotiating team not to ink upov.

Nepal, along with Cambodia which is also joining the forum, will be the first least developed country (ldc) to hop on to the wto bandwagon. But it can only become a member 30 days after it has ratified the joining agreement in its parliament. This could prove to be a problem in view of the political uncertainty prevailing in the country.