ABU DHABI 30 January 2019: The Government of the United Arab Emirates announced yesterday that it has initiated World Trade Organisation (WTO), dispute-settlement proceedings against Qatar following its ban of the sale of UAE products in Qatari markets.
The move comes following the Qatari Ministry of Economy’s ban on the sale of consumer goods manufactured in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, as well as the decision of the country’s Ministry of Public Health to stop pharmacies from selling medicines and other products coming from the four countries. Qatar has also removed the names of UAE companies from the list of approved vendors for infrastructure projects and has maintained an undeclared ban on products coming from the UAE.
The measures taken by Qatar are a flagrant violation of WTO rules. Qatar took this action after its commencement to settle disputes against the UAE through the WTO in August 2017, which is still an ongoing case. However, rather than respecting the WTO to rule on its complaint, Qatar has instead decided to impose unilateral retaliatory measures, violating the very same rules it claims the UAE is violating.
WTO rules stipulate that members who claim that another member has violated a WTO agreement must submit such claims to the Dispute Settlement Body. The rules explicitly prohibits members from unilaterally taking action in retaliation for alleged WTO violations. Yet that is precisely what Qatar has done here. Having filed a WTO case, Qatar cannot now disregard the rules of the WTO and impose retaliation on its own without a WTO decision.
As the UAE has made clear since the inception of Qatar’s case, WTO rules specify that countries may take any action they consider necessary to protect their fundamental security interests.
Qatar has tried to justify its decision by saying that these actions were taken to protect the safety of consumers and to combat the illegal trafficking of goods, but it offered no explanation as to why consumer products from the four countries pose a consumer safety risk, and how the products carry a risk of illegal trafficking.
The UAE’s termination of relations with Qatar is an essential security action, not a trade one. Moreover, in its WTO complaint, Qatar has neither alleged nor pointed to any aspect of such termination that was designed to provide the UAE with a trade advantage. On the contrary, Qatar’s unilateral retaliatory actions are pure trade actions designed to discriminate against UAE goods, while local goods and other commodities coming from other WTO members benefit from this action.
Moreover, Qatar has not invoked national security or any other legitimate rationale to justify its unilateral retaliatory actions. This only confirms that Qatar’s initial WTO complaint is baseless and that it was not initiated in good faith.