Expert views

Timor-Leste’s Trade Integration: An Engine for Economic Diversification

29 April 2024
Milena Rangel, Vice-Minister for ASEAN Affairs of the 9th constitutional Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have garnered national momentum to promote resilient economic growth.


In the land of the sacred crocodiles and where the sun rises first, as legend says, Timor-Leste has come a long way since its independence in 2002 – not least thanks to the resilience of its people.

Although we are still facing challenges that are typically presented to an underdeveloped and undiversified economy, a new dawn is on the horizon. Recently, in Abu Dhabi, we celebrated our successful accession to the WTO. We are determined to follow this path and ensure our domestic readiness to join ASEAN. Accession to the WTO and ASEAN present abundant opportunities to boost our trade and investment integration with the region and the world, enabling our economy to contribute positively to the global value chain towards sustainable economic development for the people of Timor-Leste.


Through inclusive, comprehensive, and business-friendly reforms, we have been doing our utmost to accelerate our economic diversification and regional integration, with an aim to achieve a growing, healthy and prosperous middle-income economy as envisaged in our Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030.

Strategically well-located, we have significant economic potentials which are yet to be explored. With a fast-growing and largely untapped market for trade and investment, Timor-Leste offers beneficial opportunities to other WTO members and especially to our neighbours in ASEAN.

Trader selling fish in Colmera, Dili.
© Friedrich Stark / Alamy

WTO successful accession paving our way to a full membership in ASEAN: A major milestone

Timor-Leste’s membership process to the WTO has served as a hallmark for the accession to ASEAN. Both accessions complement each other as the commitments and domestic reforms made under the WTO accession process has put us a step closer to fulfilling the requirements of the Roadmap for Timor-Leste’s Full Membership in ASEAN.

Aligning Timor-Leste's trade and investment related policies with WTO and ASEAN standards will enhance the credibility of local products in global markets, thereby enabling business expansion internationally.

Milena Rangel, Vice-Minister for ASEAN Affairs, Timor-Leste

We have a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to thrive. I may stress the paramount importance of having Timorese people, especially women and youth, as the key players in bringing Timor-Leste more engaged in the global value chain.

Many Timorese companies and entrepreneurs have been actively engaged in economic activities both domestically and in other countries, creating jobs and promoting transfer of know-how.

Coffee beans being processed and packaged in Railaco, Timor-Leste.
© Harjono Djoyobisono / Alamy

ASEAN: One vision, One Identity, One community

ASEAN Member States are and have always been among Timor-Leste’s major trading partner. Our economy has been benefiting from products made in the region and we have been also sharing ours with ASEAN. We are looking forward to further tightening our trade and investment ties with ASEAN following the accession.

In today’s fast-changing and integrated world, deepening ties with our ASEAN friendly neighbours is a cornerstone of Timor-Leste's foreign policy, which would strengthen both national and regional security and facilitate regional trade and investment aiming towards an inclusive and sustainable economic growth.


We are committed to charting towards a better future for our citizens and for the ASEAN family. ASEAN’s ultimate goal is building a region of enhanced peace and security, as well as a highly competitive, stable and economically integrated single market.

This is the Community that Timor-Leste aims to be a fully engaged and responsible member of, and we are strongly committed to achieving the accession goal.

The way forward

For Timor-Leste, integrating into ASEAN implies tapping into a major regional lucrative market and driving innovation through know-how transfer from intra-ASEAN trade and foreign direct investment. 

Our endeavour towards a more open, connected, and prosperous future relies on institutional strengthening, investing in trade-related infrastructures and inclusive, transparent stakeholders’ engagement, tailored human capital development, as well as targeted support to local small businesses.  

We are aware that the journey towards regional and global economic integration is long and will continue well beyond our accession to the WTO and ASEAN. The Government of Timor-Leste is committed to establishing a systematic business-friendly and inclusive regulatory environment that brings prosperity to every Timorese.

I am confident that, if we persevere, we will be able to realize the aspirations of creating a prosperous and resilient nation for the Timorese People.


The International Trade Centre (ITC) is currently implementing an EU-funded project in Timor-Leste which promotes sustainable economic growth and diversification through the accession and post-accession to the WTO, ASEAN and the EU-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement. The Vice-Minister for ASEAN Affairs is the lead member of the government in charge of the project.