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Geneva - Ukraine is defying demands to let Yemen join the World Trade Organization and has accused other countries of violating its sovereignty and their own responsibility to remain neutral, according to a confidential letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The Ukrainian letter, circulated among WTO members on Monday, said Kiev was being subjected to “inappropriate” pressure to consent to Yemen's membership, amounting to “interference” in the process.
Ukraine's stance puts it at odds with the WTO's 154 other members, all of whom are ready to let Yemen join, 12 years after it first applied for membership.
Many trade diplomats say they are puzzled by Ukraine's stance as it has little or no trade with Yemen. They say its stance forms part of a wider pattern of behaviour involving aggressive tactics.
Under WTO rules every country has an effective veto on new members because countries wanting to join have to agree terms with every existing member, as well as bringing domestic laws into line with those of the rest of the trading club.
Kiev's resistance is causing friction because the WTO has just drafted new guidelines to make it easier for “least developed countries” like Yemen to join, with existing members expected to limit their demands for tariff cuts.
The new guidelines are set to be approved at a meeting of the WTO's General Council next week, which will also examine the question of what is delaying Yemen's attempt to join the WTO.
Ukraine said in its letter that the idea that Yemen was unable to offer further tariff cuts was unacceptable, and that diplomats chairing the WTO bodies involved would be violating their neutrality if they took Yemen's side.
It said it was taking a pragmatic and flexible approach and had not yet decided whether to accept Yemen's latest offer on tariff cuts, made on June 19.
It blamed Yemen for the slow progress of its bid to join, saying that constructive negotiations had begun only at the end of May, since when there had been significant progress.
Yemen's frustration prompted it to ask three senior WTO diplomats earlier this year to help it reach a deal with Ukraine.
The diplomats sent Ukraine's delegation a letter on July 6 and plan to convene a meeting on Yemen's bid on July 23, two days before the WTO plenary meeting, at which all eyes will be on Ukraine's representative.
Ukraine said it was “deeply disappointed” by the letter and particularly wanted an explanation of one sentence, which read: “It is also our firm conclusion that no further revised or improved offer should be reasonably expected from Yemen”.
Ukraine said it considered that sentence to be designed to encourage Yemen to halt bilateral negotiations and put pressure on Ukraine. - Reuters