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WTO Grants Iraq Observer Status - 2004-02-11

The top Iraqi representative to the United States, Rend Al-Rahim, says Iraq has been granted observer status to the World Trade Organization, a move she hopes will encourage more American businesses to invest in her homeland. Ms. Rahim made the announcement Wednesday at a U.S. Commerce Department briefing on doing business in Iraq.

Iraqi Representative Rend Al-Rahim says WTO observer status is something her country has eagerly wanted. "It means that Iraq is going to enter into the global economy," she said. "It means that Iraq is going to be part of the international community, not only politically at the United Nations, but in all the forums, the economic and trade forums, of the world community. But really, and most of all, what it says to me is the world community is showing its confidence in Iraq."

Ms. Rahim told the conference, which was attended by representatives from about 500 U.S. companies, that as Iraq becomes more bound by international trade regulations, American companies can also benefit.

"It is also going to be very important for those who want to invest in Iraq because it does establish certain standards of transparency, accountability, and financial conduct and investment laws that Iraq has to apply and stand by," she said.

Security in Iraq is a major issue, especially after two car bombs in less than 24 hours killed dozens of people there.

The Coalition Provisional Authority's director of private sector development, Tom Foley, sought to reassure the representatives that the situation in Iraq is not as bad as they see on TV.

"There are many tens of thousands of Westerners in Iraq and some 25 million Iraqis," he said. "The number of people who have died or been injured by violence, targeted non-military Westerners, is extremely low. And the statistical risk of being hurt is probably something like riding a motorcycle or skydiving, which are, to many, acceptable risks."

Mr. Foley said current security needs and risks should be considered a cost of doing business in Iraq. He says this should be weighed against a possible future risk, the loss of competitiveness. He said a company that waits too long to invest could lose the Iraq market to others who are better established.

Mr. Foley said Iraq offers a rare situation that should be attractive to U.S. businesses. He described it as a market with great potential that is opening up after a long sleep.