Answer given by Mr Mandelson on behalf of the Commission
The status of observer is usually requested by countries interested in acceding to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the purpose of observer status being to allow a government to better acquaint itself with the WTO and its activities, and to prepare and initiate negotiations for accession to the WTO Agreement. Iraq was granted observer status in February 2004, and its request to start the process of negotiating accession to the WTO was accepted by the WTO General Council in December 2004.
The Commission encourages and supports all countries wishing to join the WTO that fulfil the accession criteria of being a state or separate customs territory possessing full autonomy in the conduct of its external commercial relations and of the other matters provided for in the WTO Agreements.
The process of WTO accession negotiations can help to encourage and drive the process of economic and political reform in the acceding country. It may also contribute to regional stability and integration if neighbouring countries are either already WTO members or in the negotiation process.
OJ C 299, 08/12/2006