The central African country has broken World Trade Organization rules on import tariffs ever since it became a member in 1995.

It has previously told the WTO that its tariffs are too high because it is a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), whose six members have a common external tariff (CET) and want to establish a customs union.

Under Friday’s proposal, Gabon’s existing tariffs will remain almost entirely as they are, only the legal maximums will change. But it would put tariffs that are currently higher than limits agreed with the WTO into the clear.

The offer, which only covers non-agricultural tariffs, would raise Gabon’s average tariff ceiling on such goods to 18.08 percent from 15.38 percent now.

“Through this exercise, Gabon wishes to resolve a twofold concern, which consists in respecting its WTO commitments without compromising its membership of the CEMAC, and hence continuing with the full application of the CET,” Gabon said in a document marked “secret” that it sent to the WTO.

Cutting its tariffs to bring them into line with WTO rules would have forced other CEMAC member countries, such as Cameroon and Congo, to cut their tariffs too.

According to WTO data on Gabon’s 2011 tariffs, the latest available, only the tariff on smartcards would face any real cut. On all other products, Gabon would simply sacrifice the flexibility to raise tariffs in future.

However, Gabon’s trading partners may insist on actual cuts, since they will be giving up the right to seek lower tariffs on exports such as cars, where the tariff ceiling will double to 30 percent, and light trucks, where it will rise from 15 to 20 percent.

Some of Gabon’s biggest import items in 2012 included diesel fuel, heavy trucks and drilling platforms, which would all have their tariff ceiling cut from 15 to 10 percent, and medicines, where the ceiling will fall from 15 to 5 percent.

The WTO authorized Gabon to take 180 days to conclude the negotiation, three times the normal timeframe allowed. (Reuters)