GENEVA Yemen hopes to conclude its 11-year-old bid to join the World Trade Organization this year, enabling the impoverished Arab state to accede in 2011, a senior Yemeni trade official said on Tuesday.
Membership of the body that umpires world trade would boost its economy and provide access to technical assistance from the WTO and its 153 members, said Farouk Kassem, director-general for marketing and trade in the ministry of agriculture.
"For Yemen there was big progress," he told Reuters after a meeting of a working party on accession. Asked when the talks would be completed, he said: "By the end of the year, hopefully."
As a least developed country (LDC), Yemen can potentially benefit from a fast-track accession process. The German diplomat chairing the negotiations, Hartmut Roben, told the meeting he was encouraged by Yemen's efforts.
"I am cautiously optimistic that this LDC accession could approach its final stage over the coming months," he said, according to a participant in the meeting.
Roben said he hoped the working party could meet again this year to wrap up outstanding issues such as Yemen's treatment of services, intellectual property and customs valuation.
Prospective members of the WTO have to reach agreement with a group representing all current members and on a bilateral level with any member that requests it.
Kassem said Yemen still needed to reach bilateral agreements with Ukraine, the most recent new member, and Honduras, after signing an agreement on Monday with South Korea. It must also settle some outstanding questions with Japan, he said.
Yemen, a neighbor of Saudi Arabia, is one of several Middle Eastern countries still outside the WTO, including Iran, Iraq and Algeria.
The government is struggling to stabilize the Arab world's poorest country where al Qaeda is trying to strengthen its foothold and faces an increasingly violent struggle with southern secessionists as it tries to cement a truce with northern rebels.
Yemen applied to join the WTO in 2000, and membership talks have picked up since 2005, especially in the last three years.
(editing by Paul Taylor)