WTO General Council agrees to welcome Curaçao as new observer.

Among all the troubling news related to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s encouraging to know that positive advances are also taking place. After a long process, Curaçao was admitted as an observer to the World Trade Organization WTO. The observer status is the preparation stage before becoming an independent member state. On March 3, Curaçao’s representatives addressed the General Council of the WTO Secretariat, including all the members and observing governments to express their gratitude.

The WTO-accession statement of Curaçao was presented by Mr. Caryl Monte, Chief Negotiator for the WTO-accession and president of the Permanent Commission for International Trade and Foreign Economic Relations of the Government of Curaçao.
This was a historic moment for Curaçao, which has been long in the making. In his statement to the General Council after WTO members accepted Curaçao as a new observer, Monte underlined the long commitment to the multilateral trading system of Curaçao and its predecessor, the Netherlands Antilles (NA). The NA were participants in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its multilateral negotiating rounds.

“We believe in, and will actively support, the role of the WTO in organizing and nurturing effective global economic governance, especially where it concerns the interests of small island developing states within the WTO,” Mr Monte said.

He explained that the fundamental aspiration is to directly take part in the global trade dialogue and seek mutual economic progress by connecting to other trading partners, especially in the Caribbean region. This should be based on a transparent set of multilateral and plurilateral trading and other commercial rules, administered on the basis of equality and irrespective of the size of the member country. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo congratulated Curaçao on the members’ acceptance of its application and welcomed it to this room. “I wish Curaçao the best for a swift and successful accession process. I can also assure you that you can count on the Secretariat’s full support to make this a reality as soon as possible”, Azevêdo said.

The request for separate WTO membership was fully supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Curaçao has been part of the original membership of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to GATT, and subsequently WTO. “With the request for membership as a separate customs union, Curaçao underlines its commitments to the WTO,” said the Dutch representative at the General Council. The Kingdom consists of the four countries, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, and the Netherlands.

This was the first time Curaçao formally addressed the General Council as an acceding separate customs territory. At the start of the WTO in 1995, Curaçao had regretfully missed the boat that would have converted its GATT-membership in an original (Article XI) membership on the basis of its status as a separate customs’ territory. However, as Monte indicated, its desire to join the WTO was formally revived in 1998, when the Government of the NA decided that the island should become a full member of the WTO as an independent customs’ territory.

The NA constitutionally ceased to exist on October 10, 2010 but left a legacy of great commitment to international trade for its successors, among which the autonomous country and separate customs territory of Curaçao. “Our predecessors in the Netherlands Antilles have been a participant to GATT and all its multilateral negotiation rounds, at least since 1949. This means that we have a history of solid and deep commitment towards multilateralism and international organizations since the initial postwar period of international cooperation on global economic governance”.

In this respect, the aspiration is to directly take part in the global trade dialogue and seek mutual economic progress by connecting to other trading partners, especially in the region.

This will be based on a transparent set of trading and other commercial rules, administered on the basis of equality, and irrespective of the size of the member countries. The multilateral trading system and the WTO assists in bringing Curaçao’s trade and other commercial policies, systems and practices, further in line with the global environment for import, export, investment and trade facilitation. This will help to attract much-needed foreign investments. That’s why, although small in comparison to others Curaçao is highly motivated to be directly involved in the rule making and reform of the WTO.

While the WTO faces different important challenges, and alternatives for reform of the multilateral trading system are being discussed, there is still significant support for its work. According to Curaçao the WTO is still the world’s best bet in avoiding disrupting international trade wars. “Therefore, even though there is apparently no single path to address its main challenges, we urge WTO members to continue to exercise solidarity and try their best in protecting the present multilateral trading system from major interruptions and the frustrations that exist on both sides of the aisle” says Monte.

He thanked the Permanent Representative and the Government of the Netherlands for facilitating the transmission of Curaçao’s request. He finished by showing appreciation for the WTO cooperation and decision to set up the Working Party on the Accession of Curaçao. The island commits to complete the required procedures in the accession process as soon as possible. It is already largely in compliance with the main requirements through its shared membership with the other countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island looks forward to favorable reactions from other members of the Working Group.

The Leeward island of Curaçao, situated in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea about 55 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela has a separate customs territory within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. All WTO members have joined the system as a result of negotiations. Membership thus means a balance of rights and obligations. They enjoy the privileges that other member-countries give to them and the security that the trading rules offer. In return, they had to make commitments to open their markets and to abide by the rules — those commitments were the result of the membership (or “accession”) negotiations. Countries negotiating membership, such as Curaçao are WTO observers.

Click to see the statement and click here to see the moment of admittance.