Iran hopes to go beyond the lifting of Western economic sanctions and boost its economy by joining the world's preeminent trading group, a top Iranian official announced December 17.
"I'm here with an important message," that Iran is prepared to negotiate its way into the World Trade Organization, Iranian Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh told a gathering of the WTO's 162 members in Nairobi, Kenya.
"Now that years of intensive negotiations have finally cleared all the misunderstandings around Iran's nuclear activities, we are taking the next step towards integrating more deeply into the global economy."
Iran currently is the largest economy outside the WTO, which governs trade relations between the United States, European Union, China, Russia, and other major economies.
Tehran has been racing to comply with the curbs on its nuclear activities specified under a July nuclear accord with world powers in the hope of securing the lifting of U.S. and European economic sanctions early next year.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress December 17 that Tehran is fulfillng its obligations in a "transparent" and "verifiable" way, so the United States has started to take steps toward lifting some sanctions.
U.S. and United Nations experts have said Iran could be in compliance with the nuclear accord and entitled to sanctions relief as early as January.
Despite having some of the world's biggest oil and gas reserves, Iran's economy has been crippled by the sanctions, which have isolated Tehran from the broader global trading system that has brought prosperity to other emerging economies such as China, which joined the WTO in 2000.
Iran now hopes to follow the same path to prosperity. In anticipation of the sanctions being lifted, Nematzadeh said Iran is already opening up its trade and investment regime and pursuing bilateral and regional integration with its neighbors and European trading partners.
But regionalism is no substitute for the global system, he said.
"Finalizing WTO membership is therefore a priority for the Iranian government. As the largest nonmember economy in the world, our full membership will be win-win for all and a significant step towards creating a truly universal organization."
Iran first applied for WTO membership in 1996. It recently updated its membership application and is ready to submit it to the WTO and proceed to talks with other nations on lowering tariffs and other barriers to trade, Nematzadeh said.
Countries seeking to join the WTO have to bring their own laws into line with WTO rules. But they also must strike deals in negotiations with other WTO members, who may demand concessions in exchange for supporting Iran's membership.
If it joins the WTO club, Iran would have to limit its tariffs and be transparent about policies that affect trade, such as energy subsidies and agricultural rules.
Other large economies that are not WTO members include Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Iraq.