By ASSOCIATED PRESS
GENEVA

The World Trade Organization on Friday approved Saudi Arabia's bid to become the 149th member of the global body, winding up a 12-year negotiating process slowed by the country's participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

The acceptance by all WTO members is necessary before a new member can be admitted, and Saudi Arabia made a number of agreements with different countries on opening up its markets.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the WTO, said Saudi Arabia had provided sufficient guarantees in its accession process that it would follow the WTO's rules, which include "not having a boycott against anyone else inside the organization."

"Such types of boycotts within the WTO are totally unacceptable," Levanon told The Associated Press. "As soon as Saudi Arabia accepted all these rules, the door has been open for future relations when the moment is ready for that."

But Prince Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's assistant minister for petroleum affairs, was less clear: "They are a member and we are a member. We are just there as members of the WTO. Nothing more."

Saudi Arabia got Washington's approval for its membership in September. US Trade Representative Rob Portman said then that the US agreed based on negotiations that included in part the oil-rich kingdom's agreement to have trade relations with all WTO members.

WTO chief Pascal Lamy welcomed the new membership, saying, "it's good for Saudi Arabia, it's good for Saudi Arabia's trading partners and it's good for the organization."

By extending membership to Saudi Arabia "The WTO truly becomes a 'World Trade Organization,"' Lamy said. "It is the world's 13th largest merchandise exporter and the 23rd largest importer."

"One more heavyweight around the table (is) good news," he said.

Saudi Arabia will become a member on Dec. 11, two days ahead of the organization's Hong Kong ministerial summit, said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. At that meeting WTO members are supposed to agree on an outline deal to boost the world's economy by lowering trade barriers.

"Saudi Arabia has always believed in a free economy and liberal market operations," Saudi Trade and Industry Minister Hashim A. Yamani said at WTO headquarters in Geneva. "The accession will further integrate Saudi Arabia's economy into the world economy."

Prince Abdulaziz said the accession would not affect oil prices, but would help bolster energy security.