Economy, Domestic Economy

US Lawmakers Attempt to Block Iran’s WTO Bid

US Lawmakers Attempt to Block Iran’s WTO BidUS Lawmakers Attempt to Block Iran’s WTO Bid

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers is pressing the White House to oppose Iran’s bid to join the World Trade Organization, citing concern that admission could constrain US ability to impose future sanctions on Iran.

The pressure from lawmakers illustrates the political crosscurrents the administration of President Barack Obama faces as it seeks to integrate Tehran into the global economy after reaching a landmark nuclear accord with Iran and five other world powers last year.

Iran signaled it wanted to move toward joining the trade body after completion of the nuclear deal.

In a letter sent on Thursday, GOP representatives Peter Roskam of Illinois and Dave Reichert of Washington and Democratic representatives Juan Vargas of California and Grace Meng of New York urged US Trade Representative Michael Froman to resist Iran’s efforts to join the international group, the Wall Street Journal reported.

All four lawmakers opposed the deal the US struck with Iran imposing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for the lifting of US, European Union and United Nations sanctions.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, the US committed to freeing as much as $100 billion in Iranian oil money frozen in overseas accounts, as Iran takes steps to roll back key parts of its nuclear program. The administration retains the ability to impose sanctions on Iran for certain other activities, such as ballistic missile tests or human rights abuses.

The lawmakers said in Thursday’s letter that they worried that the WTO rules could limit sanctions the US might want to levy on Iran.

A senior administration official said the White House was not currently working to help Iran enter the world trade body.

“The WTO accession process is based on consensus, and as of now, there are a number of countries that oppose appointing a chair to Iran’s working party on accession,” the official said, describing the process involved in joining. “The US also does not currently support naming a chair.”

Unlike the UN Security Council, in which only the five permanent members wield veto power, any decision at the WTO must be approved by all member states. This means that even the objection of a single state effectively results in a veto.

It was only in May 2005, after 21 failed attempts over the course of two decades—due to objections by the United States—that Iran’s application was finally approved unanimously to give it observer status.

Yet Iran, the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region, is still the largest economy excluded from the WTO.

As part of Iran’s accession bid, a working party has been formed while Tehran has taken a series of steps such as submitting a memorandum on its foreign trade regime in 2009 and replying to a set of questions in 2011. However, “the working party has not yet met”, according to the WTO.

Iranian officials have many times accused the US of not committing to its obligations under the nuclear deal, as many economic benefits the Islamic Republic expected to enjoy by signing the landmark accord have not been obtained.

However, much to the opposition of hardliners, the Obama administration has made some positive moves that had been stipulated in the atomic pact. That includes a license to American plane manufacturer Boeing and its French rival Airbus to sell dozens of billions of dollars worth of passenger planes to Iran.

Since the nuclear deal last year, Oman and Switzerland have pressed for forming a special committee of the WTO to address Iran’s bid. Iran’s regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia, have opposed that effort. The George W. Bush administration once pledged to support Iran’s bid to join the WTO, if a nuclear agreement was reached.


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