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Iraq presents case for fast-track WTO membership

3 April 2008

GENEVA – The Iraqi government made its case Wednesday for why Iraq should be put on the fast track for World Trade Organisation membership, citing its plentiful oil resources and strategic position in the Middle East as great opportunities for the global expansion of commerce.

Trade minister Abed Falah al-Sudani told diplomats meeting in Geneva that Iraq is determined, despite “difficult circumstances”, to qualify for the 151-member WTO, which sets the rules for world trade. He said Iraq’s accession also was in the interests of its current and potential trading partners.

“Iraq has suffered a lot because of wars and blockades, and is in dire need (of) your support in accelerating its accession to the WTO,” Al-Sudani said.

“Iraq will be an active and positive member of the world community and its integration in the international community will help in creating stability and faster development in the country.”

Members told Al-Sudani that they needed more information on Iraqi pricing policy, investment rules, import licenses, customs law, state enterprises, tariff regulations, free zones and telecommunications.

Iraq applied for membership in 2004, at which point it was given observer status in the body. The country is thought to be still years away from accession.

Al-Sudani said Iraq has made progress in its bid since the first discussions at the WTO which took place 10 months ago. He said legislative efforts to harmonise Iraqi rules with WTO standards were moving forward, and explained to WTO delegations his country’s legal procedures for bringing draft bills into law.

Iraq also has met bilaterally with trading powers such as the United States, European Union and Brazil in the last year. Existing WTO members can seek separate trade commitments with a candidate country before vetting that government’s membership bid. Eventually all the bilateral deals are merged into a multilateral package so that the new WTO member state trades with all others on the same basis.

Iraq has yet to conclude any bilateral deals. It will update the WTO on new legislative steps at its next WTO meeting, for which no date was decided.

Al-Sudani said Iraq’s membership would “represent a significant addition to the world community’s effort toward the expansion of trade and investment.”

He cited Iraq’s oil and gas reserves, arable lands and water resources from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as advantages.

The global trading system also will benefit from the inclusion of Iraq with its “strategic geographic position between East and West, and highly educated citizens,” he said.

[AP / Expatica]