Why did the World Trade Organization chose to hold its first global meetings since the horrendous debacle in Seattle in the tiny, Persian Gulf nation of Qatar? And what does this decision tell us about the kind of future the WTO envisions for the world? The WTO meeting, which may launch a new round of trade talks, is set for Doha, the capital of Qatar, from November 5-9.
Qatar has a lot of advantages from the WTO’s point of view. First, it is a monarchy, not a democracy. The same family has been in power since World War I. There are no rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, or freedom of association, so the WTO won’t have to worry about pesky protests getting in the way of business. In fact, even according to the US State Department, not exactly a critical source, Qatar can’t be called “democratic.” The State Department’s latest report on Qatar, published in February 2000, notes severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and association:
- The Government does not allow political demonstrations.
- The Government does not allow political parties or membership in international professional organizations critical of the Government or of any other Arab government
- Private social, sports, trade, professional, and cultural societies must be registered with the Government. Security forces monitor the activities of such groups.
Trade officials say Qatar has promised to allow all WTO critics who so desire to attend the meeting.
WTO officials at first spurned Qatar’s offer, saying the tiny Persian Gulf emirate didn’t have enough hotel rooms. But with no other viable alternatives because of the tear gas drenched debacle in Seattle, trade officials worked out a compromise: Delegates will stay on cruise ships in the harbor. Qatar’s ambassador to the WTO, Fahad Awaid al-Thani, said that WTO member states informally polled by WTO General Council chairman Kare Bryn of Norway had found “no opposition to us.”
“I am very pleased about this,” WTO Director-General Michael Moore said. “They [Qatar] were the first to make an offer.”