- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 7, 2004

GENEVA — Iraq’s request for observer status in the World Trade Organization is expected to be approved this week, senior diplomats say.

“We are strongly supportive of Iraq obtaining observer status in the WTO,” said Kevin Moley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and international organizations in Geneva.

Similarly, Arancha Gonzalez, spokeswoman for EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, said the 15-nation bloc was on board.

“The EU will support Iraq’s request for observership in the WTO in the upcoming (WTO) General Council meeting on February 11 … and we continue to support bids for WTO membership from other countries in the region including Iran, Syria and Libya,” she said.

To advance the request, Ahmad Al-Mukhtar, Iraq’s director-general of trade, held talks in Geneva recently with senior WTO officials, and with trade officials from the United States, the EU and other nations.

If, as expected, the Iraqi request makes it to the agenda of the next WTO ruling General Council slated for Wednesday and Thursday, some developing countries are expected to take the floor to denounce the United States for blocking WTO membership for Iran, Syria, Libya, and the 22-member Arab League.

Developing nations are not expected to go so far as to veto the Iraqi request, diplomats said.

“You can never be sure,” said one WTO diplomat, but went on to add that Iraq’s request is “pretty much on track.”

Under WTO rules, a country or territory can apply for observer status or for membership talks if it is in control of duties collected at its borders.

But as Iraq points out in its application, all tariffs and charges on goods entering and leaving Iraq, including customs duties, customs fees and similar levies, have been suspended by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority until March 31.

Although Iraq is not at the moment in full control of its customs, a transitional government is slated to take over from U.S. authorities on July 1.

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