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Cape Verde Businesses Respond to WTO Membership with Optimism and Reservation


Business leaders in Cape Verde are responding to their country's ascension to the World Trade Organization. While business leaders agree the measure should enhance the competitiveness of the island nation, Brent Latham reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar some in Cape Verde doubt the small country's businesses are ready to compete on an international level.

Representatives of local businesses in Cape Verde have accepted their country's membership in the World Trade Organization with optimism and reservation.

The small nation became the 153rd member of the WTO Wednesday in Geneva.

While most business people in Cape Verde agree WTO membership will bring about changes to help businesses improve their competitiveness, some expressed concern that businesses would be unable to survive without national protection and preferences, which will be gradually eliminated under WTO rules.

The economic dimensions of the country of just 500,000 inhabitants make it difficult for Cape Verde's businesses to compete on an international level, says the President of the Barlavento Chamber of Commerce, Luis Vasconcelos.

Vasconcelos says WTO membership will have some negative consequences for some businesses in Cape Verde. He says there will be new, complicated regulations they will need to follow.

Nevertheless, Vasconcelos sees WTO membership as an opportunity for Cape Verde. With the opening of larger potential markets, Cape Verde's industries will have the opportunity to diversify, he says, giving Cape Verde an advantage over countries in similar economic situations.

A spokesman for Cape Verde's stock exchange said it was too early to determine the effect on the country's largest companies.

Mendoza says that Cape Verdean companies will now need to comply more with international standards and practices, which should enhance competitiveness.

Mendoza says foreign companies will have an easier time coming to Cape Verde than local companies going abroad. He says only four companies, with a total capitalization of about $150,000, have been listed on the stock exchange. Mendoza says WTO membership is likely to help increase that number.

National Institute of Agrarian Investigation and Development program manager Carla Tavares said WTO membership is not likely to affect the country's agricultural sector since Cape Verde is a net importer of food.

Tavares says the country has a lot of work to do before it will be ready to export agricultural products.

Cape Verde, Africa's westernmost nation, is composed of 10 main islands about 500 kilometers off the coast of Senegal. The economy depends principally on tourism.

Last year, Cape Verde became only the second country, following Botswana in 1994, to be considered sufficiently developed for removal from the United Nation's list of least developed countries.