- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

BAGHDAD (Agence France-Presse) — Iraq will shortly apply for membership to the World Trade Organization, interim Trade Minister Ali Allawi said yesterday, prompting a warm response from the WTO.

“We are going to apply to join the WTO,” Mr. Allawi said at a press conference.

“As a first step, Iraq could become an observer before becoming a [full] member,” he added.

Keith Rockwell, the WTO’s chief spokesman at its headquarters in Geneva, said Iraq had a lot of work to do to return its economy to good health.

“And this is clearly one element that they think will be helpful and that is welcome,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“It is clear that there is a strong push among many countries to get Iraq up on its feet as soon as possible.”

Mr. Rockwell said he had heard nothing official from Baghdad about its desire to join the 146-member trade body.

“But certainly membership to this organization is open to anyone,” he said. “It is then of course a process of negotiation to come on board.”

Mr. Allawi said he expected it to take up to 18 months for Iraq’s application for full membership to be accepted.

The application would be made “very soon,” he said.

Mr. Rockwell explained that it was impossible to calculate how long such a request would take to process, noting that China took 16 years to accede — the longest time of all member states.

“In terms of timing and under what conditions they would become a member, that is all to be decided,” he said.

Mr. Allawi noted that WTO membership would enable the country “to take advantage of the lifting of restrictions on Iraqi products … (and) economic opportunities, which will come from the opening of international markets to Iraq,” after more than a decade of UN sanctions.

U.S. officials have urged Iraq to join the WTO, which supervises international commerce and trade liberalization.

Under WTO rules, a country wishing to join the organization must reach agreement with its main trading partners on market access and cutting customs duties, which are subsequently widened to all other WTO members.

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