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Iraq and Lebanon face long wait to join WTO

WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Iraq and Lebanon both want to resume talks and the organisation will 'try to go as fast as possible' Reuters
WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Iraq and Lebanon both want to resume talks and the organisation will 'try to go as fast as possible'
  • Lebanon and Iraq seek to join WTO
  • Application takes many years
  • WTO covers 98% of world trade

Iraq and Lebanon have indicated a desire to resume talks aimed at joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), but history suggests the two could be in for a long wait.

To join the WTO, a government has to bring its economic and trade policies into line with the organisation’s rules and principles and negotiate with the entire WTO membership on guaranteed minimum levels of access to their domestic markets for goods and services.

Comoros and Timor-Leste officially became members of the WTO during the group’s 13th ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Timor-Leste, one of the world’s youngest countries after gaining independence in 2002, is located off the south-eastern coast of Asia between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Its entry to the WTO was one of the fastest, as negotiations took seven years.

Comoros, in East Africa, meanwhile, was granted membership after 17 years.

WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said there are 22 more countries “in the queue” to join, with up to nine from the Arab world.

These include Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Sudan “to name a few who are all trying”, said Okonjo-Iweala.

“Some of them started negotiations some time ago and due to internal domestic issues, sometimes conflict related or economy related, there have been lapses in this,” she said.

She told a media briefing that a delegation from Iraq “want to resume” talks, while Lebanon “also wanted to revive” negotiations.

Iraq originally applied to join the WTO in 2004, Lebanon in 1999.

The WTO is made up of more than 160 members and covers 98 percent of world trade. It is the only global international organisation dealing with the rules of trade between nations. 

“I think anyone that feels they’re ready to move forward, we will work with them and try to go as fast as possible,” said Okonjo-Iweala.

The WTO boss also said on Monday that the world may not make the 3.3 percent merchandise trade growth rate it had projected for this year in the face of geopolitical tensions, ongoing disruption in the Red Sea and climate change-induced drought in the Panama Canal.

“Global merch trade volume growth in 2023 appears to have fallen short of the 0.8 percent we were projecting in October,” she said.

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