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The New Arab

WTO to hear Qatar's complaint over economic blockade

Qatar turned to the WTO in August following an economic blockade imposed months earlier. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2017

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Qatar took the final step on Wednesday to start litigation at the World Trade Organization against the UAE over an economic blockade imposed on the Gulf state.
Qatar took the final step on Wednesday to start litigation at the World Trade Organization against the UAE over an economic blockade imposed on the Gulf state.

Qatar turned to the WTO in August, saying it was the victim of an "illegal siege" perpetrated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which have cut ties with Doha over its links to Iran and accusations that it supports extremists.

In the initial WTO filing, Qatar requested "consultations" with its rivals, a procedural move required by the Geneva-based organisation before a Dispute Settlement Body panel (DSB) can be set up. 

Last month Doha made an initial request for a DSB to hear its case against the UAE. Abu Dhabi rejected that bid.
 
The UAE was permitted to block Qatar's request once but Qatar then made the request a second time, which according to the WTO's often quirky rules triggered the automatic creation of a panel.  

"The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body agreed today, 22 November, to establish a panel to rule on Qatar's complaint regarding various measures imposed by the United Arab Emirates restricting trade in goods and services with Qatar and the protection of Qatari intellectual property rights", a statement from the Geneva-based trade body said. 

The UAE says it plans to thwart the Qatari litigation by resorting to the WTO's national security exception, an argument never tested as a defence in WTO litigation.

Qatar's representative at the WTO's dispute settlement body on Wednesday said the UAE had used "provable fabrications, and rhetoric not befitting of this House".

"UAE has asserted an absolute unilateral right to be absolved of all of its substantive and procedural WTO obligations vis-à-vis Qatar based purely on its bald assertion that its coercive attempts to isolate Qatar reflect a security concern," he said, according to Reuters.

Trade diplomats had previously warned that using the security exception defence could open a Pandora's Box since the WTO's 164 members might cite national security to skirt normal trade regulations.

The WTO's dispute settlement process can take months, if not years, with initial rulings typically subject to appeal.

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