Qatar files legal complaint to WTO over trade boycott

GENEVA • Qatar has filed a wide-ranging legal complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to challenge a trade boycott by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

By formally "requesting consultations" with the three countries - the first step in a trade dispute - Qatar on Monday triggered a 60-day deadline for them to settle the complaint or face litigation at the WTO and potential retaliatory trade sanctions.

"We've given sufficient time to hear the legal explanations on how these measures are in compliance with their commitments, to no satisfactory result," Mr Ali Alwaleed al-Thani, director of Qatar's WTO office, said.

"We have always called for dialogue, for negotiations, and this is part of our strategy to talk to the members concerned and to gain more information on these measures, the legality of these measures, and to find a solution to resolve the dispute."

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The boycotting states cut ties with Qatar - a major global gas supplier and host to the biggest United States military base in the Middle East - on June 5, accusing it of financing militant groups in Syria and allying with Iran, their regional foe - allegations that Doha denies.

The boycotting countries had previously told the WTO that they would cite national security to justify their actions against Qatar, using a controversial and almost unprecedented exemption allowed under WTO rules. They said on Sunday that they were ready for talks to tackle the dispute, the worst rift between Gulf Arab states in years, if Doha showed willingness to deal with their demands.

The text of Qatar's WTO complaint cites "coercive attempts at economic isolation" and spells out how they are impeding Qatar's rights in the trade of goods, services and intellectual property.

The disputed trade restrictions include bans on trade through Qatar's ports and travel by Qatari citizens, blockages of Qatari digital services and websites, closures of maritime borders and prohibition of flights operated by Qatari aircraft.

There was no immediate reaction from the three countries to Qatar's complaint. There was also no explanation for why the WTO suit does not include Egypt, the fourth country involved in the boycott, although Egypt did not expel Qatari citizens or ask Egyptians to leave Qatar.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Qatar files legal complaint to WTO over trade boycott'. Print Edition | Subscribe