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EGYPT: Cairo Offers to Host WTO Mini-Ministerial Meeting in June

by Daniel PruzinWTO Reporter
March 4th, 2003

Egypt is eyeing a late June date to host the next World Trade Organization "mini-ministerial" meeting, Egyptian officials told BNA February 28.

The officials said the meeting, which will bring together trade ministers from some two dozen WTO member countries, is expected to be held sometime between June 28 and July 3. The location will be Sharm El Sheikh, a popular resort town on the Red Sea recently in the headlines for hosting an Arab League summit on Iraq.

The "mini-ministerials" are meetings held outside the formal WTO framework which bring together trade ministers to discuss key items on the WTO's work agenda and to prepare for the organization's September ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Advocates for the meetings, such as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, see the gatherings as important in keeping top trade officials engaged in the WTO process and paving the way for a smooth Cancun meeting.

Egypt made an offer to host the meeting at a previous mini-ministerial in Sydney, Australia last November. A subsequent mini-ministerial took place in Tokyo, Japan on Feb. 14-16.

Egyptian officials said they expect the same number of ministers to be invited as at the previous mini-ministerials, although they added that Egypt would probably push for greater representation from African and the Arab world. The Quad Group (the United States, European Union, Japan, and Canada) will, as usual, be on the invitation list.

Some WTO officials have expressed doubts whether the meeting will take place because of potential instability in the region arising from a possible war with Iraq. Egyptian officials counter that the WTO went ahead with its previous ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar in November 2001 despite post-Sept. 11 security fears and war clouds looming over Afghanistan.

More doubts have been expressed about the benefits of such meetings, which have aroused considerable resentment among those countries not on the invitation list. Critics point out that the last two meetings produced no tangible benefits and were perhaps counterproductive.

A declaration by ministers in Sydney that they were close to reaching an agreement on improving access to essential medicines in poor countries proved illusionary when negotiations resumed in Geneva, and the Tokyo meeting was marred by sharp differences over WTO agriculture chairman Stuart Harbinson's first draft text on modalities for the farm trade talks.

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