World Trade Organization members agreed on Tuesday to start membership talks with Syria, nearly nine years after it applied to join the global commerce body.
The move indicated that the United States and Israel were lifting their long-standing block on Syrian accession negotiations and trying to work with the Middle Eastern country rather than ostracise it.
Under the WTO's consensus system, each of the 153 members has an effective veto, but at Tuesday's meeting of the WTO's general council, no one blocked a move by Egypt to discuss Syria's application or a decision to start talks.
The decision means Syria gains observer status in the WTO with immediate effect.
Syria was one of the founder members in 1947 of the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), but stopped participating in its work and did not join the WTO when it was created in 1995.
But since it applied to join the WTO in October 2001, the United States and Israel had blocked WTO acceptance, trade sources said.
"We stress that in a rules-based trading system, only commercial, technical and legal considerations should serve as the deciding factors in every accession process," an Egyptian diplomat told the council, calling for consideration of Syria's request.
Developing countries in the WTO have often expressed concern at delays in allowing other developing countries to join. Half a dozen Arab countries including Algeria, Libya and Yemen -- plus Iran and Afghanistan -- are among those in the queue.
Some 15 developing and emerging countries spoke in support of Egypt, but neither the United States nor Israel, nor any other rich country, took the floor.
No one objected when the chairman of the General Council, Canadian ambassador John Gero, proposed setting up a working party open to all members to negotiate Syria's accession.
After taking his seat as an observer, Syria's ambassador in Geneva, Faysal Hamoui, told the council that Syrian membership would strengthen the global trading system and promote wellbeing for Syria and the rest of the world.
"I would like to thank ... Director-General Pascal Lamy for his universally acknowledged role for objectivity and impartiality. Mr. Lamy thank you for all your efforts," he said.
The next step is for Gero to consult members and Syria and nominate someone to chair that working party.
That could prove a big hurdle -- no agreement has been reached on someone to chair Iran's membership negotiations, delaying their start, even though the United States lifted its effective veto on creating a working party five years ago.
Syria will now also have to draw up a memorandum of its trade policies to serve as a basis for negotiations.
ReutersLast Mod: 05 Mayıs 2010, 09:01