The US Agency for International Development (USAID) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Economy & Trade Ministry on 8 December to provide technical assistance to Beirut ahead of its planned accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).‘USAID has pledged $4.8 million to the government, which is aiming for accession [to the WTO] in 2006,’ USAID mission director Raouf Youssef told MEED on 12 December. ‘After the donors’ conference in Beirut in February there will be a working party meeting in March at WTO headquarters in Geneva.’ USAID has awarded a six-month consultancy contract to the US’ Booz Allen Hamiltonto provide technical assistance to the ministry. Beirut is hoping to introduce new legislation in readiness for accession to the WTO, for which it applied in 1999. ‘Six trade-related laws are currently in the pipeline pending enactment and we are working to conclude them before the end of 2006,’ says a senior official at the ministry. Beirut has already signed freetrade agreements with the EU, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Iceland and the GCC. A full establishment of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) was achieved in January 2005.