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WORLD: No Action Yet on WTO

by Robert EvansReuters
September 12th, 2001

Trade officials said on Wednesday work was continuing to prepare the World Trade Organisation's ministerial meeting in Qatar in November despite the terror attacks in the United States.

Qatar's envoy to Geneva said he had not yet heard of any formal move to postpone the gathering -- which would bring together trade ministers from some 150 countries -- set for November 9-13 in the Gulf state's capital Doha.

"We are continuing work to prepare the Doha meeting," said one trade official.

But a two-day discussion of U.S. trade policy at the WTO was postponed "to a later date," the trade body said.

Qatar's ambassador to the WTO and United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Sheikh Fahad Awaida al-Thani, told Reuters that he was not aware of any move to put off the meeting.

"I have heard nothing along those lines from my authorities, and there has been no official request up to today from the United States following these terrible events," he said.

But speculation was strong among WTO delegations that the ministerial -- a meeting held every two years to decide on where the currently 142 members of the body want to steer it -- would be a casualty of the events in New York and Washington.

Major powers and some developing countries have been pushing for the ministers to agree to launch a new round of trade liberalisation negotiations. This is being strongly opposed by a group of emerging economies and poor states in the WTO.

"I just cannot see it (Doha) going ahead in these circumstances," said one diplomat, who declined to be identified.

"None of us want to give comfort to terrorists, but I sense the will is not there." Other diplomats said the fact that U.S. officials were already linking Tuesday's horror in New York and Washington with Islamic fundamentalists meant any international meeting in the Middle East must inevitably be put in doubt.


U.S. Might Hit Out

"If the United States hits out at a target in the region in response to this tragedy, it would inevitably raise tension in an already very tense area to fever-pitch," said one.

"I can't imagine ministers and delegates being very keen to go to Doha in those circumstances." U.S. President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he would make no distinction between terrorists and their hosts in the hunt for those responsible for mounting the attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Thousands are believed to have died in the attacks, in which four airliners were hijacked and three used as flying bombs against the buildings. Another crashed in Pennsylvania.

Former U.S. senior defence official Richard Perle, who served under President Ronald Reagan, told the British Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday that the United States would have to look hard at countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan which he said harboured and backed terrorists.

The United States launched missile attacks on sites in Sudan and Afghanistan - where its "enemy number one" Osama bin Laden is based - after bomb attacks in 1998 against its embassies in Kewnya and Tanzania.

U.S. officials have already been pointing the finger at bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian exile who intelligence officials say has a worldwide terrorist network and has vowed to destroy the United States.





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