Economy, Domestic Economy

New Climate Raises Hope for Iran’s WTO Membership

New Climate Raises Hope for Iran’s WTO MembershipNew Climate Raises Hope for Iran’s WTO Membership

Switzerland is one of the most important and influential members of World Trade Organization and its endorsement would help solve problems in the accession process, the head of Iranian Scientific Commerce Association said.

Esfandiar Omidbakhsh, who also chaired a body affiliated with the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade, was in charge of Iran’s accession talks, Eghtesad News reported.

In late February, Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann made a rare visit to Iran and met with his Iranian counterpart.

Schneider-Amm was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency in Tehran that 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 that in return, Switzerland will help Iran obtain the full membership of WTO.

But will the Swiss key eventually unlock the gate to the world’s largest pro-free trade entity?

  Past process

Iran applied to join WTO in July 1996. Nonetheless, it took the body nine years to accept Iran as an observer member in 2005. That was when WTO formed a working party to start Iran’s membership talks. The party is a mission of members’ representatives tasked to assess accession bids made by applicant countries.

Iran’s overdue accession to WTO is attributed to many factors. While some of them are related to domestic issues, including red tape, excessive customs regulations and high tariffs, others should be sought abroad and can be resolved with the help of strong WTO members such as Switzerland.

Although in the past, the government failed to take effective steps toward deregulating trade and business environment, efforts made by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration show promising signs. The international community is expressing readiness to help Iran join the world body.

Following the landmark nuclear deal reached between Tehran and P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), which led to a thaw in relations between Iran and the West, leaders of many European countries have said they will endorse Tehran’s accession bid. Among those nations are influential WTO members such as Germany and Switzerland.

  Nothing New

Although, according to Omidbakhsh, Switzerland has been a nominee for chairing Iran’s working party since 2005, Iran’s efforts to appoint a chairperson for the party have so far failed. That is where the new political climate could work in favor of the Islamic Republic.

“As soon as Iran’s membership talks begin, discussions over Switzerland’s nomination for chairing Iran’s working party will once again surface. And in that case, endorsements made either by Switzerland or the European Union will gain a considerable significance for Iran,” he said.

Such supportive stances will raise hopes that the WTO members this time will agree upon Iran’s accession. However, what remains to be solved is the main obstacle hindering Iran’s membership process: the United States’ opposition.

Omidbakhsh points out that Switzerland’s support “is nothing new”. In fact, “they have always been ready to lead Iran’s working party and support Iran in the organization”.

What prevented Switzerland’s will from turning to action, he stresses, was objections by the US.

Even after the US—one of the most influential members of WTO—agreed with Iran’s accession as an observer member, Washington’s objections slowed down Iran’s negotiations.

Iran submitted a memorandum on its foreign trade regime in 2009 and in 2011, the country replied to a set of questions posed by WTO members based on the information provided in the memorandum.

Nonetheless, Omidbakhsh noted that talks have gone nowhere since then, as Washington has always prevented the members from reaching a consensus on decisions regarding Iran’s accession.

“The onus is now on the Foreign Ministry to pursue and resolve the issue. During any negotiations they have with the US, the ministry should try to get Iran back in the accession talks,” he said.