Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, which provides for accession, states:
"Any state or separate customs territory possessing full autonomy in the conduct of its external commercial relations and of other matters provided for in this Agreement and the Multilateral Trade Agreements may accede to the WTO on terms to be agreed between such state or separate customs territory and the members of the WTO."
The phrase "on terms to be agreed" necessitates that the accession process is a series of negotiations between the applicants and members of the WTO. Generally, aspiring members will first become observers; a status intended to allow governments to become familiar with WTO requirements and the accession process. Observers are not required to make any changes or commitments and are allowed to attend meetings and review WTO documents. As they develop a familiarity with WTO requirements, they may start unilaterally changing their foreign trade regime in anticipation of the accession process.
Governments then request to accede to the WTO by submitting a communication to the Director General, which is then circulated among all members. Upon approval of the request at the next General Council meeting, a Working Party will be established to review the application. Any and all WTO members may form the Working Party, although usually only those governments particularly interested in the accession of a given government will participate.
Thus begins the "information gathering" stage of the accession process. The applicant provides a memorandum on its foreign trade regime describing all aspects of its trade policy that has a bearing on WTO Agreements. The memorandum covers general economic indicators, policies affecting trade in goods, such as import and export regulations, agricultural and industrial policies, policies regarding intellectual property rights, policies affecting trade in services, customs valuation, and licensing requirements. The memorandum on the foreign trade regime is distributed among Working Party members, who in turn submit written questions and comments for response by the applicant. Based on this initial round, the Working Party will meet to further delve into the details of laws, regulations, sectoral policies, taxation systems, privatization plans, subsidy policies, information on regional trading agreements, tariff and non-tariff barriers and anything else that might affect international trade.
With some overlap into the "information-gathering stage," the "negotiating" phase begins whereby the applicant engages in parallel multilateral and bilateral talks with members of the Working Party. For example, the U.S. government consults with the private sector by issuing a call for comments in the Federal Register on the accession of a particular government. Based on these and other consultations, U.S. negotiators develop a formal request to lower tariffs and other barriers to trade, and to provide specific sectoral market access commitments. During this phase, either the applicant could submit an initial offer or Working Party members could submit requests as a basis for further negotiations, which continue until the Working Party agrees that all necessary changes have been made to bring the applicants foreign trade regime into compliance with the WTO.
Eventually, a Draft Report of the Working Party, summarizing the discussions of the Working Party, is drawn up and sent to the General Council along with a Draft Protocol of Accession. The bilateral tariff, non-tariff, and market access commitments, once agreed to by the Working Party, are combined to form the draft protocol. (The bilateral commitments made will automatically apply equally to all WTO members in accordance with the non-discrimination principle.) The General Council / Ministerial Conference must adopt the report and draft protocol. The Protocol enters into force thirty days after ratification of the applicant government.
Pakistan is a founding Member of the WTO; and is an active member of numerous Working Parties, established to examine the trade regime of the candidate countries and make subsequent recommendation to the General Council for the said accession.