Long road ahead for Iran’s bid to join WTO

By Maysam Bizær, for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iran Business News.

“Now that years of intensive negotiations have finally cleared all the misunderstandings around Iran’s nuclear activities, we are taking the next step toward integrating more deeply into the global economy. … Finalizing WTO membership is therefore a priority for the Iranian government,” said Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh at a ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Nairobi late last year.

Unlike the UN Security Council, in which only the five permanent members wield veto power, any decision at the WTO must be approved by all member states. This means that even the objection of a single state effectively results in a veto.

As such, it was only in May 2005, after 21 failed attempts over the course of two decades — due to objections by the United States — that Iran’s application was finally approved unanimously to give it observer status. Yet Iran, the second -argest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region after Saudi Arabia, is still the largest economy excluded from the WTO.

As part of Iran’s accession bid, a working party has been formed while Tehran has taken a series of steps, such as submitting a memorandum on its foreign trade regime in 2009 and replying to a set of questions in 2011. However, “the working party has not yet met,” the WTO stated.

Following last year’s landmark nuclear deal, which resulted in the removal of many financial and trade restrictions, the Iranian government has sought to build on the momentum and proceed with its WTO accession bid by gaining more international support, including backing from the European Union. Iran has also set up a team of economists and lawyers to evaluate the institutional and economic reforms required to make its trade regime WTO-compliant.

The 164-member WTO accounts for nearly all global trade. As such, for Iran’s trade-starved economy, accessing the global markets of WTO member states is particularly attractive as it can challenge economic sanctions against it through the organization’s dispute settlement system.

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