Optimism and worry as Seychelles readies for WTO
After 18 years of negotiations, the tourist destination — famed for its white sandy beaches and luxury hotels - is set to join the global trade body by the end of April 2014, said Cillia Mangroo, head of the finance ministry’s trade division.
For the authorities of the island nation, membership equals commercial security.
“Being a member of the WTO, for a small country like Seychelles, provides the opportunity to have a body that can defend their rights in case of a trade dispute with another country,” said Charles Morin, the islands’ chief negotiator.
Aside from pulling in tourists and honeymooners, the main export is canned tuna to the European Union. The EU is also the country’s main trading partner, taking 61 per cent of exports and the source of 30 per cent of imports.
The Seychelles also exports copra — coconut kernels that are ground down to extract oil — and furniture to Asia and Africa.
Ahead of joining the 159 member bloc, officials in Victoria has been busy signing bilateral agreements with Canada, Mauritius, Oman, Switzerland, and, more recently, the EU and Thailand. According to the WTO, the country has been particularly committed to cutting export subsidies to zero.
Worries for businesses
But not everyone in the small nation of just 90,000 inhabitants is convinced of the benefits of casting off trade barriers.
“Architects, engineers and lawyers are worried about the opening up of the market, because once the Seychelles becomes a member of the WTO, any business can come and invest in the country,” said Marco Francis, president of the country’s chamber of commerce.
There are fears too for the country’s poultry and pig farmers, already badly struggling since the authorities began to open the market, including allowing meat imports from Brazil.
“I fear that the country’s entry into the WTO will result in the end of such farming... and that could put the country’s food security at risk,” Francis added.
He said many livestock breeders have also closed shop because the Seychelles does not have the means to make “mass rearing such as Brazil and China.”
Francis hopes that a list of “protected” products will be reserved for key Seychelles companies, arguing Victoria should retain a monopoly on traditional fishing.
But the government will not budge, arguing that WTO accession is key to putting the economy back on track after skirting close to bankruptcy during the peak of the financial crisis.