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Iraq Aims for WTO Membership
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Iraqi membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) would send a powerful message that the country has emerged from decades of international exclusion under Saddam Hussein and is on the path to economic development, its trade minister said on Friday.

Abed Falah al-Sudani told ambassadors meeting in Geneva for first discussions on Iraq's bid to enter the 150-member commerce body that "joining the WTO is an important step toward integration into the global trading system and restores its position with the international community after decades of isolation from the world", according to a copy of the statement.

Iraq applied for membership almost three years ago, and a WTO negotiating group was established in December 2004. Membership is not expected for years to come.

"We were very pleased with this meeting," US Ambassador Peter Allgeier said. "We look forward to working with the (Iraqi) delegation to make this a successful process."

WTO ambassadors from the European Union, Japan and other countries also asked questions of Iraqi officials presenting a 284-page report of its progress in harmonizing its trading rules with international standards.

Trade officials stressed that the current security situation and political instability in Iraq means it is premature to talk about any timetable for accession.

The first meeting focused on political support for the Iraqi government, rather than the tough reforms it needs to make, officials said.

"As you know, there is much to be done," al-Sudani conceded.

But he noted that the Iraqi government was still able to generate economic growth over the last two years "despite the current circumstances Iraq is going through".

"Iraq's membership in the WTO sends a positive signal to the people of Iraq that they are welcomed back and that the world really cares about their welfare," al-Sudani said.

(China Daily via agencies May 26, 2007)

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