Economy, Business And Markets

Iran Says WTO Accession No More a Priority

Domestic Economy Desk
WTO Accession No More a Priority for Iran
WTO Accession No More a Priority for Iran

Iran says joining World Trade Organization is no more a priority for the country – a change of dominant tone since the signing of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers in July 2015 – amid America’s hostile Iran policy under President Donald Trump.

“Our priority is now to increase cooperation with neighboring countries and those in the region, which offer the most benefits to us,” Mojtaba Khosrotaj, the head of Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, said on Wednesday.

Not being a WTO member, Iran has been banking on free or preferential trade agreements with the countries it has strong economic trade ties with. A PTA with Turkey was implemented early 2015 and similar deals are expected to be signed with Eurasian Economic Union states, among others.

The government has earlier said those deals are aimed at facilitating WTO membership by gradually doing away with trade tariffs, as political conditions become suitable for Iran’s accession amid tangible progress after more than two decades of Tehran submitting its bid for the first time in 1996.

Iran became an observer member to the world organization in 2005, but WTO failed to assign a group chairman to discuss Iran’s foreign trade regime, due to the opposition of the US that has not been on good terms with Iran since 1979.

When Tehran signed the landmark nuclear deal with six world powers in July 2015—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—to resolve a longstanding dispute over its nuclear program, leaders in Tehran and Europe said time was finally ripe for WTO to reach consensus on Iran’s membership.

In a gathering of ministers of WTO’s 162 members at a biennial meeting in Nairobi late 2015, Iran’s Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said Iran is prepared to negotiate its way into the World Trade Organization.

“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,” he said.

“Finalizing WTO membership is, therefore, a priority for the Iranian government. As the largest non-member economy in the world, our full membership will be win-win for all and a significant step toward creating a truly universal organization.”

Among the long list of world leaders who led large trade delegations to Iran after the nuclear deal are those who supported Iran’s willingness to join the global trade entity.

In February 2016, Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann made a rare visit to Iran and met with his Iranian counterpart. He said Bern expects Iran to provide legal security for international businesses, respect intellectual property, avoid unnecessary paperwork and facilitate visa process to strengthen its ties with the European country and, in return, Switzerland will help Iran obtain the full membership of WTO.

 “Trump Effect”

“Nothing has changed,” a top TPO official told Financial Tribune, on condition of anonymity. “Had there been any progress in WTO regarding our membership, we would have received the updates by now.”

The official is directly involved in the process of Iran’s WTO accession.

“It is the Trump effect,” he said, and the “uncertainty” it has created among other countries regarding Iran’s economic engagement with the global community.

Despite the lifting of sanctions in January last year as part of the JCPOA, Iran’s economic engagement with the world has been quite challenging amid Washington’s anti-Iran policy.

Although Trump has so far acknowledged Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, he has vowed to find a way not to do so in the future, raising concerns that the deal might not survive as we know it.

Despite disagreements on Russia, Trump and the US congress have been on the same page about increasing pressure on Iran. The congress lately passed a legislation to place new sanctions on Iran. And Trump signed the legislation into law.

US lawmakers’ opposition to Iran’s WTO accession was known even before Trump took office.

In October 2016, a bipartisan group in the US House of Representatives called on US Trade Representative Michael Froman to resist Iran’s efforts to join the international group over concerns the membership could tie their hands for imposing sanctions.


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