By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Yemen hopes to conclude its11-year-old bid to join the World Trade Organization this year,enabling the impoverished Arab state to accede in 2011, a seniorYemeni trade official said on Tuesday.
Membership of the body that umpires world trade would boostits economy and provide access to technical assistance from theWTO and its 153 members, said Farouk Kassem, director-generalfor marketing and trade in the ministry of agriculture.
"For Yemen there was big progress," he told Reuters after ameeting of a working party on accession. Asked when the talkswould be completed, he said: "By the end of the year,hopefully."
As a least developed country (LDC), Yemen can potentiallybenefit from a fast-track accession process. The German diplomatchairing the negotiations, Hartmut Roben, told the meeting hewas encouraged by Yemen's efforts.
"I am cautiously optimistic that this LDC accession couldapproach its final stage over the coming months," he said,according to a participant in the meeting.
Roben said he hoped the working party could meet again thisyear to wrap up outstanding issues such as Yemen's treatment ofservices, intellectual property and customs valuation.
Prospective members of the WTO have to reach agreement witha group representing all current members and on a bilaterallevel with any member that requests it.
Kassem said Yemen still needed to reach bilateral agreementswith Ukraine, the most recent new member, and Honduras, aftersigning an agreement on Monday with South Korea. It must alsosettle some outstanding questions with Japan, he said.
The government is struggling to stabilise the Arab world'spoorest country where al Qaeda is trying to strengthen itsfoothold and faces an increasingly violent struggle withsouthern secessionists as it tries to cement a truce withnorthern rebels. [ID:nLDE6811PT]
Yemen applied to join the WTO in 2000, and membership talkshave picked up since 2005, especially in the last three years.
(editing by Paul Taylor)