Accession of Iran to the World Trade Organization: A Legal-Political Overview



Iran’s decision to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) is now 14 years old, among the longest cases in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and WTO history. Given the fact that negotiations have not yet started, it may be the longest accession process when Iran finally joins the Organization. This paper attempts to shed some light on the procedural and substantive aspects of the case. A brief account of the WTO accession procedures and a quick glance on the history of the Iran’s application provides solid background for the more analytical parts of the paper. It will be shown how unnecessary application of “consensus rule” to the purely procedural stage of accession (establishment of the working party) cost Iran 9 years. Iran could have become full member during the same period in a less demanding negotiating context. The paper will also look briefly into the political environment surrounding Iran’s application for membership.; The paper also presents a critical outlook on the negotiations for accession and the accession outcomes. It criticizes WTO-plus commitments/WTO-minus rights paradigm which now prevails over the accession negotiations and argues that this paradigm contradicts the contractual nature of the WTO Agreement. It emphasizes that an acceding country should have a clear picture about rights and obligations of the membership. That should be the WTO Agreement as it is. The balance of rights and obligations (terms of contract) should not be changed in the course of negotiations.; This paper also intends to serve as a basis for further research and discussion over an important and challenging area of Iran’s trade and foreign policy.