Ethiopia Won’t Free Telecoms, Banking for WTO, Minister Says

Ethiopia will pursue membership of the World Trade Organization, though it has no plans to liberalize its telecommunications and financial-services industries to gain access, Trade Minister Girma Birru said.
Ethiopia is currently fielding questions about its trade policies from countries including the U.S. and Canada, as it attempts to negotiate entry into the global trade regime, Birru said in an interview on Feb. 17 in the capital, Addis Ababa.
The Horn of Africa nation, twice the size of Texas and with a population of 82.5 million, applied for membership of the Geneva-based trade arbiter in 2003. The country is counting on membership to open new markets to boost its $25.1 billion economy.
“Primarily we will join the WTO not to make others happy, but to make our economy work,” Birru said. “So to the extent it helps our economy we will liberalize things, but if it’s not going to assist our goals in trade and development we will not liberalize. Why do we have to?”
The country’s protected telecom and financial industries will be points of contention in the talks with WTO-member countries including the United States and United Kingdom, Tewodros Mekonnen, a researcher with the Ethiopian Economic Association, said in a phone interview on Feb. 19.
“I don’t see any plan” to break up or sell Ethiopian Telecommunications Corp. to private investors, Birru said. “If there are some problems it has nothing to do with ownership. It has only to do with management. Management and ownership don’t necessarily go together.” (By Jason McLure Feb. 19 Bloomberg)