By Aaron Maasho
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – (Reuters) – Ethiopia expects to join the World Trade Organization in 2015 without heeding to demands that it liberalizes its state-run banking and telecoms sectors, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The Horn of Africa nation applied to join the body in 2003, but its hopes for membership had hinged on Addis Ababa opening those areas to international competition.
U.S. officials have publicly asked the country to liberalize both sectors, but Ethiopia says they are “sensitive areas” whose liberalization may harm national interests.
Its chances, however, were given a lifeline last year when the WTO lowered the bar for the world’s least developed countries to join the global trading club by agreeing new membership standards.
The new rules allow members to open fewer sectors, liberalize fewer types of transactions, and only open up theirÃ‚Â marketsÃ‚Â as their economies develop.
“Ethiopia’s accession to the WTO is expected to be finalized in the third quarter of 2015,” a Foreign Ministry statement said, quoting Lesanework Zerfu, head of the Trade Ministry’s multilateral trade relations department.
Addis Ababa, with its strongly state-interventionist policies, has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The government expects growth of 10 percent in the fiscal year ending next month, boosted by rising agricultural output and huge public spending.
Industry, however, accounts for only about 10 percent of gross domestic product, while major sectors of theÃ‚Â economyÃ‚Â such as banking and telecoms remain in state hands.
With an 85 million-strong population – making it Africa’s second-most populous – Ethiopia offers an attractive market with cheap labor for foreign investors.
Speaking at aÃ‚Â businessÃ‚Â forum in the Ethiopian capital last month, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the telecom sector generated around 6 billion birr ($321 million) a year, which the government uses for railway projects.
Ethiopia plans to build 5,000 km of railway lines by 2020.
“Therefore, the telecoms sector will remain in government hands for years to come,” Hailemariam said.