Liberia has finally acceded to the World Trade Organization with President Sirleaf describing the event as another turning point in Liberia's history as the country continues the journey of economic transformation for inclusive growth. She said although long and tough, the road to accession has come with milestones of economic growth.
Speaking at the Accession Ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya during the 10th Ministerial Council Meeting President Sirleaf indicated that with over twelve unbroken years of peace and stability, Liberia created the fiscal space by removing an external debt burden of $4.9 billion through the HIPC process, increasing domestic revenue by over 600%, and providing substantial support to invest in trade facilitation and infrastructure. The accession makes Liberia the 35th Least Developed Country to be admitted into the WTO and the organization's 163rd Member State.
President Sirleaf also reflected on Liberia's progress in rebuilding after decades of conflict, recounting gains in energy/electricity, road construction, education, health and the pursuit of investment opportunities for the country to achieve national objectives.
Touching on the ebola crisis, she indicated that Liberia made huge progress in developing its health sector for the past 12years, but said progress was reversed by the ebola crisis. "In the years preceding the ebola crises, access to health services increased from 41% in 2007 to 71% in 2013 as a result of increase in the number of health facilities from 354 in 2006 to 712 by 2012. The government remains committed to rebuilding a more resilient health system now that ebola has been defeated", President Sirleaf pointed out.
On trade and commerce, President Sirleaf told the WTO Conference that special emphasis is being placed on small and medium-size enterprises to drive the agenda of inclusion, and that the government has enacted the Small Business Empowerment Act, which requires 25% public procurement to be from Liberian-owned businesses".
President Sirleaf indicated that despite progress over the last ten years, much is still to be done; acknowledging that the ebola crisis and the dramatic drop in global prices of two of Liberia's major export commodities - rubber and iron ore caused a severe drop in GDP. She praised the international community including Kenya for helping Liberia to overcome the virus. Meanwhile, President Sirleaf informed the WTO Conference that the Liberian economy is being diversified with an accent on agriculture (cocoa, rice, fisheries and agro-processing) and tourism to better withstand the vagaries of the global marketplace. Liberia, she asserted is endowed with over 40% of West Africa's tropical rain forest, the largest in the region and is home to a most spectacular biodiversity, including the pigmy hippo. "Liberia is ideal for eco-tourism", the Liberian leader trumpeted.
President Sirleaf then expressed appreciation for the collaborative efforts of Liberia's partners, particularly the Governments of Sweden, the United States of America, the European Union, China, and Japan, whose support have made this accession a resounding success. She also thanked the Swedish National Board of Trade, the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Bank Group, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Advisory Centre on WTO Law, the International Senior Lawyers Program, the law firm, King & Spalding, and WTO's Enhanced Integrated Framework for supporting Liberia's accession.
She also recognized the efforts of Liberian technicians and public servants whose talents and commitment led to this achievement and again congratulated President Kenyatta and the people of Kenya for hosting the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO. President Kenyatta congratulated Liberia for its accession to the WTO, indicating that it was now incumbent upon the country to seize the opportunities that come along with the accession.