US again stalls WTO process on Iran accession request

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 18 July 2001 - Action on Iran’s application to accede to the World Trade Organization has again been stalled, when it came up for consideration at the WTO General Council Wednesday, with the US saying that it was still reviewing the matter and was in no position to provide a response at this point.

Malaysia, which inscribed the item on the agenda (on behalf of the informal group of developing countries), hoped that a favourable response could be forthcoming at the next meeting of the General Council when the item would again be on the agenda.

Iran had put in its request for accession as long ago as September 1996, and then renewed it in 1998.

Initially, the Director-General of the WTO (at that time Mr. Renato Ruggiero) consulted with some members and, on the basis that the United States would block a consensus, did not even bring it up before the General Council as required under the rules.

The US was saved the public embarrassment.

Though Iran, and sometimes one or the other member informally asked the secretariat about it, the Iranian application was never brought up before the formal meeting of the General Council.

When the issue was publicly raised at UNCTAD-X in Bangkok, Ruggiero’s successor, Mr. Mike Moore, said that he had held consultations again (after taking over as DG in 1999), but there was still no consensus.

Last year, the issue came up at the informal group of Developing Countries, and Egypt (the then chair) raised the issue in a statement at the General Council under ‘other business’, and asked for the application to be formally placed before the General Council.

Subsequently this year, Malaysia as the Chair had the issue inscribed on the agenda (for the May meeting of the General Council) and raised it at the second session this year of the General Council, giving time to the new Bush administration to decide what to do.

When it came up in May this year, the US (with a new administration) said it was reviewing the matter. The Iran application came up again at the meeting Wednesday, the US said it was still reviewing the matter.

Malaysia said it looked forward for a response from the US to enable the normal procedures for accession applications to begin in the normal way. The Malaysian ambassador, Mr.Supperamaniam hoped that a solution to this problem could be found and looked forward to a favourable response from the US when the issue would be on the agenda of the next General Council meeting.

The Council, acting separately, accepted the accession request application from the Bahamas and Tajikistan, and set up working parties with standard terms of reference to look into these applications.

In other actions, the General Council agreed to the request of the Gulf Organization for industrial consultancy to attend the Doha meeting as observers.

But consultations are still to continue over the request for observership for the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development, as well as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries. In prior informal consultations, the chairman said, objections had been raised, and further consultations would be held. Consultations are also to be held on three other applications received

- the League of Arab States, the Arab Monetary Fund and the Advisory Centre on World Trade law. – SUNS4940

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