18 Feb 2014

WTO calls Tonga out on backlog of economic reforms

10:54 am on 18 February 2014

A review of Tonga's Trade Policy by the World Trade Organisation has found the Kingdom faces a backlog of reforms that are required to modernize and streamline its legal and regulatory frameworks for economic development.

The review, carried out last week, found Tonga's imports continue to outstrip its exports by a factor of at least 10:1 annually and over 50% of the imports are for fuel and food.

The Tongan economy, one of the smallest among WTO Members with a GDP of about US$500 million, is based on agriculture, fisheries, a small mainly domestically oriented manufacturing sector, and tourism and other services.

The review examined the impact of Tonga's trade policies and practices on the WTO multilateral trading system.

It also noted that although banks and foreign exchange dealers are supervised by the National Reserve Bank of Tonga, the insurance sector and other financial services suppliers are not regulated by any authority.

The report also there is also a sense of uncertainty over which government ministry is responsible for trade in Tonga.

The Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Labour was responsible for foreign trade policy matters until mid-2012, when the trade portfolio was transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs without a corresponding transfer of staff.

Meanwhile, the "old" trade ministry is still in charge of trade related matters.

Matangi Tonga online says the review of the trade policy was the first since Tonga joined the World Trade Organization in July 2007.