The official SPA agency said Saudi completed the second round of bilateral talks on products and services and concluded agreements with Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, Taiwan and Paraguay.

Negotiations are also at an advanced stage with other WTO members, the news agency added.

In August, the kingdom signed an agreement with the European Union and has been working hard to close a similar deal with its other top trading partner, the United States.

Under WTO rules, a country wishing to join the organisation must agree to arrangements with its main trading partners on market access and cutting customs duties, which are subsequently widened to all other WTO members. 

"We are looking towards the end of the year with real good prospects of Saudi completing the bilateral implementations"

Supachai Panitchpakdi,
WTO director general  

The candidate must then make a commitment to ensure its trade legislation complies with all WTO rules, as the last step before actually becoming a member.

"We are looking towards the end of the year with real good
prospects of Saudi completing the bilateral implementations," WTO director general Supachai Panitchpakdi said in October.

"With this good working going on, I can expect the accession of the kingdom to be within the year 2004 and most certainly in the beginning of the year," said Supachai. 

Saudi Arabia first applied to join the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), in 1993. 

It is the only member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which is not a WTO member.