Iran makes move to revive WTO accession talks

GENEVA Tue Nov 24, 2009 11:22am EST

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran has taken a step to reviving its long-stalled membership talks with the World Trade Organization (WTO), a WTO official said on Tuesday.

Iran has sent the WTO's 153 members a summary of its trade policies which would form the basis for negotiations on joining the body that regulates global commerce.

"I can confirm that the members have received today the memorandum from Iran," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The membership negotiations are certain to be influenced by the concerns of other powers over Tehran's nuclear program. The WTO's system of decision by consensus gives existing members an effective veto over candidates.

But the move to join the WTO is a further sign of Tehran's desire to re-engage with the world.

Iran is one of the largest economies outside the WTO, with nuclear power Russia, Kazakhstan, Iraq and Algeria.

It applied for membership in July 1996 but ran foul of an effective U.S. veto.

Washington lifted its blockage of the talks in 2005, and the WTO created a working group to handle them in May of that year.

But nothing has happened since then as members have been waiting for the policy documents from Iran.

Another crucial step will be the appointment of someone to chair the working group and steer the negotiations. Trade sources said it now appeared the United States was willing to accept Switzerland's WTO ambassador, Luzius Wasescha, as chairman.

The nomination of the chairman must be approved by the WTO's General Council, but it is not yet clear whether this will be on the agenda of the next council meeting on December 17.

WTO rules require candidates to negotiate with a working group on behalf of the full membership and conduct bilateral negotiations with any existing member that wants them.

(Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay)