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WTO sets up panel in Qatar-Saudi dispute


AFP |

The World Trade Organization agreed Tuesday to establish a panel to decide if Saudi Arabia has failed to protect the intellectual property rights of firms based in Qatar with which Riyadh severed diplomatic ties in 2017.

The WTO legal dispute is the latest battlefront in a bitter feud between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, who have imposed an economic blockade on Doha.

Qatar launched the dispute in October, accusing Saudi Arabia of blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN and of not taking proper action against piracy of beIN’s content by a Saudi-based piracy outlet called “beoutQ”.

WTO rules include a “national security exemption,” which could theoretically give a country carte blanche to impose economic penalties on a rival.

Saudi Arabia blocked Qatar’s initial request for a WTO dispute panel on the matter. Qatar then launched a second request, which was approved automatically, in accordance with WTO rules.

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The “scale of Saudi Arabia’s violations are unprecedented, and threaten the international system of IP protection,” a Qatari envoy to the WTO, Saleh Abdulla Al-Mana, said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with their regional rival Iran — charges Doha denies.

The WTO legal dispute is the latest battlefront in a bitter feud between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, who have imposed an economic blockade on Doha.

Qatar has filed a separate WTO grievance against the UAE and Bahrain over the blockade. That case is ongoing. Saudi Arabia has invoked national security to justify its economic actions against Doha.

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That poses complications for the 164-member WTO, which has tried to keep national security questions out of its trade dispute system.  US President Donald Trump’s administration has also cited national security to support trade restrictions, actions that have also triggered a plethora of WTO challenges.

WTO rules include a “national security exemption,” which could theoretically give a country carte blanche to impose economic penalties on a rival.

But the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, often dubbed the supreme court of world trade, has never made a ruling in a national security case.

© Agence France-Presse