Saudi Arabia gets final WTO ‘green light’

SAUDI ARABIA is preparing to become the 149th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after a negotiating group gave the green light for the kingdom to join the international body.

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By  Rhys Jones Published  November 13, 2005

SAUDI ARABIA is preparing to become the 149th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after a negotiating group gave the green light for the kingdom to join the international body. Assistant oil minister Prince Abdel Aziz Bin Salman Bin Abdel Aziz, a member of the Saudi delegation that won the WTO working party’s go-ahead in Geneva last week, called it “the final step on the road to Saudi accession”. “All that remains for a formal announcement is the [approval of the ruling] General Council during a meeting,” said Abdel Aziz. “Saudi Arabia will attend the WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong on December 13 as a full-fledged member of the organisation,” he added. The working party’s approval all but brought to a close more than a decade of painstaking efforts by Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer and exporter, to join the WTO. Nations in the 148-member body set global rules to ease trade among themselves. A country wishing to join must first offer market-opening concessions to its main trading partners, including cutting customs duties. The accords it reaches in bilateral talks are subsequently widened to all other members. The candidate must then make a commitment to ensure that its trade legislation complies with all WTO rules as the last step before actually becoming a member. Prince Abdel Aziz, the son of Riyadh’s governor, said that trade agreements signed with the United States and the European Union “played a major role” in paving the way for WTO membership. He said that Saudi King Abdullah had “made personal contacts with the leaders of major powers” to ensure Saudi accession, and thanked in particular French president Jacques Chirac and British prime minister Tony Blair for backing Riyadh’s drive to join the global trade body. Conservative Saudi Arabia, which currently pumps around 9.6 million barrels of oil a day, has introduced economic reforms in recent years, which according to experts have smoothed the way for its imminent accession to the WTO.

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