- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 was an historic step demonstrating to the world the democratic spirit of the people of Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine has expressed real pride in its national identity, increasingly embracing a culture of freedom.

Ukraine now faces another historic decision: its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The benefits of WTO membership for Ukraine are enormous both psychologically and economically. Membership would immediately confer a badge of international respectability, documenting Ukraine’s remarkable progress and standing in the world. It would publicly announce Ukraine’s willingness to adhere to a set of internationally agreed-upon rules governing trade and investment, which would encourage inward flows of capital.

Integration into the global trading system would guarantee Ukraine much-needed access to world markets, where its goods and services would be treated as favorably as the most powerful WTO members. Broader market access would stimulate economic growth and boost its standard of living. And, if in the future, Ukraine believed another WTO member unfairly denied its entrepreneurs benefits guaranteed by a WTO agreement, it would then have access to a reliable forum for resolving the dispute.

So why is there any delay? There are basically three obstacles that must be overcome. First, before Ukraine can qualify for WTO membership, it must enact 21 bills into law that would reform its tax and customs regimes. Thus far, the Rada, its legislative body, has passed only 12 bills; none has been enacted into law. Second, under WTO rules, Ukraine must negotiate and sign bilateral agreements with all interested WTO members on the terms of its accession. It has yet to conclude and sign a bilateral agreement with Kyrgyzstan or with Taiwan. Third, and most important, its leadership will need to persuade the members of the Rada of the benefits that will flow from WTO membership. Some members of the Rada, pressed by influential lobbies, seek to slow down the accession process by insisting on changing the terms of some of the bilateral agreements already concluded with WTO members.

From the time he assumed office, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, has articulated a clear and consistent vision for the country’s economic future, which includes Ukraine’s prompt accession to the WTO. This past August, Ukraine’s prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych signed the National Unity Declaration, which states that Ukraine should join the WTO by the end of 2006. Ukraine’s prospects would be greatly enhanced were the prime minister to voice his approval of Ukraine’s accession even more clearly.

Without strong vocal support from both leaders, Ukraine’s WTO accession process could well be delayed by those who oppose trade liberalization and could unnecessarily postpone the benefits that Ukraine could obtain from WTO membership. Should its accession be postponed until late 2007, Ukraine could face tougher conditions to gain membership. Now is the time to convert ambiguous statements from official channels of power into clear and forceful statements of support for Ukraine’s WTO accession.

Ukraine is best served by the Rada acting swiftly to pass the required legislation, signing bilateral agreements with the two remaining WTO member-states, and presenting a united front to the world.

Carla A. Hills served as the U.S. trade representative from 1989 to 1993 and is chairman and CEO of Hills & Co., International Consultants.

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