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Turkmenistan to Initiate WTO Talks

Tuesday 22 January 2013

(AFP) – Extending recent tentative moves to bring the country out of international isolation, Turkmenistan’s government on January 19 announced plans to open talks with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

According to state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan, President Berdymukhamedov ordered Deputy Prime Minister Annamukhammet Gochiyev to “examine the issue of Turkmenistan’s joining the WTO.” The Turkmen leader also ordered the government to “start negotiations with the WTO leadership about accepting Turkmenistan as a member,” the newspaper added, but offered little detail, reports AFP.

News of the energy-rich Central Asian country’s decision to explore the benefits of joining the global trade body came two years after Berdymukhamedov received a surprise offer from European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso to apply for WTO membership during a visit to Ashgabat in January 2011. “This will increase Turkmenistan’s share in regional and global trade and have a positive impact on economic development, which is necessary for long-term prosperity and well-being,” Barroso said at this occasion, adding that the EU is ready to assist Turkmenistan technically and share European experience. Fuel-energy complex, high-technological industrial spheres, transport, communications, banking and financial sector are among the promising areas of cooperation between Turkmenistan and the European Union.

Ashgabat is keen to diversify its export routes in order to leverage the development of its oil and gas reserves. Until the opening of a Central Asian gas route to China in 2009, the region was entirely dependent on Soviet-era infrastructure carrying exports through Russia to European markets. The Transcaspian pipeline would connect Turkmenistan with Azerbaijan and could eventually provide a major boost to the European Nabucco project, a natural gas route by-passing Russia to deliver gas to Europe from other producers. The Southern Gas Corridor is seen by the EU as vital to future energy security after disputes that disrupted supplies of Russian gas to some European countries.

Turkmenistan, while not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), has already enacted a number of laws which mirror WTO standards including: investment, banking, intellectual property rights, customs, and privatization. However, the legislation is not enforced uniformly. Turkmenistan is not a signatory to and is not in compliance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS).

Should it push the plan through, Turkmenistan would likely become the fourth Central Asian country to join the global trade club. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are already member, while Kazakhstan is on the verge of joining. Turkmenistan sits on what are claimed to be the world’s fourth largest reserves of gas, and Turkey is discussing the possibility to start shipping that fuel to Europe via the planned TANAP pipeline, through which Azeri gas is set to transit.

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