Qatar has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against three of the four Arab countries that are isolating it, opening up a possible new path for negotiations with its opponents.
The Gulf nation said late Monday it had filed the grievance with the WTO’s dispute settlement body alleging that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are violating laws and conventions related to trade.
The three countries, along with Egypt, cut diplomatic ties and severed air, land and sea links with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting extremists. Qatar denies the charge and sees the boycott as politically motivated.
Qatar’s appeal to the WTO coincided with a visit to Geneva by Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassem bin Mohammed Al Thani, the country’s minister of economy and commerce, who met with the head of the trade organization and lawyers specializing in trade disputes.
It calls for the start of formal consultations with the three Gulf states and lays out specific trade violations, according to a statement released by Qatar’s government communications office. It argues the boycott hurts not only Qatar, which is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, but also its trading partners.
“This positive step taken by the State of Qatar clearly demonstrates to all member countries of the WTO the level of transparency exhibited by the State of Qatar through requesting formal and transparent dialogue and consultations with the siege countries,” the statement said.
Under WTO rules, the parties have 60 days to resolve their dispute through negotiations. If they fail, Qatar can request the establishment of an independent panel that could force the trio to end their boycott or face penalties.
Qatar has rejected a tough 13-point list of demands from the Arab bloc, arguing that accepting them wholesale would undermine its sovereignty.
Fellow Gulf state Kuwait is mediating the crisis, but it and Western-led diplomatic efforts have so far failed to secure a breakthrough. Neither side has shown any significant sign of backing down.
The isolation campaign, which sealed Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia, has proved costly for the 2022 World Cup host, however.
Qatar Airways, one of the Mideast’s biggest long-haul airlines, has been forced to reroute flights on costly detours over friendlier airspace and is blocked from flying to key regional feeder airports such as Dubai. The boycott has dramatically driven up costs to import food, medicine and likely even building materials that Qatar needs for extensive infrastructure projects.
By ADAM SCHRECK