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French Version

WTO meeting in Doha. First time event in Arab world much to be discussed

Many regard this week's meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Doha a turning point in the debate now going on over globalization.

Many regard this week's meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Doha a turning point in the debate now going on over globalization.

For WTO Director-General Mike Moore, the organization has an ambitious program for the international economy. He suggests negotiations about trade liberalization will begin in 2002, "to strengthen the system and the organization."

Economists agree the economic downturn by industrial nations, like the US and Japan, hinder investments and living standards. Moore reminds, the week-long WTO ministerial meeting in Doha on 9 November, is a negotiating forum for global growth.

"It is important not to lose sight of the fact that on matters of substance, the only way to change the rules and workings of the WTO is through negotiations," said Moore to the media. "When developing countries say they have not received all the benefits they expected from the WTO, I agree."

He, however, made clear these changes can be tangible only if the developing countries take part in real, extensive negotiations within WTO meetings.

The WTO venue in Doha is attracting 142 countries, who are gathering to shape the future of global trading. Sources in the WTO said the meeting is expected to make significant decisions to revitalize economic and trade co-operation among its members.

Moore sees such co-operation as "one of the most important pillars of the international architecture. And failure to improve it would be a dangerous setback for the global economy."

And hence the role of Arab nations whose position in the global controversy is yet not clear. The Arabs are divided between joining or rejecting globalization. Jordanian economist Ahmed Al Namri believes Arabs will be the biggest losers if they do not insist on prior tangible benefits to their economies.

"The developing countries are becoming more dissatisfied with the outcomes of globalization. The Arabs on the other hand, refuse to admit this," Al Namri told The Star.

Other economists agree the choice of Doha as a venue to host the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference this year has many indications. Besides the benefits, economists believe there is much political fruit to be gained from such meetings. However, many Arab governments are still unwilling to participate in the WTO meeting because of Israel's participation.

Anti-globalization followers are saying they will take advantage of the venue to press forward their political demands. Already they are warning the Doha meeting wants to establish economic normalization between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

And the call last week by the anti-globalization gathering in Beirut was clear. It highlighted the theme: "A fair trade, not a free trade."

Participants in the meeting, which represented Arab and international organizations, also urged their governments to review WTO programs to protect the least developed nations such as Yemen, Somalia, and Djibouti.

A number of economists, meanwhile, suggest when Arab governments don't attend such meetings, their economies stop benefiting from the rewards of a dialogue between different nations.

"Joining the WTO means retaining sustainable human development. It also makes local industries more open and healthier," said Hana' Uraidi, an economic researcher and consultant.

For Jordan, the decision to obtain WTO membership last year was unanimous. "Setting a foot in the world markets helps the Kingdom to establish the environment for business relations and investment," stressed Mohammed Halaiqa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs. Halaiqa justifies Jordan's achievement for the WTO as a cost-efficient one.

Uraidi, on the other hand, noted Jordan's membership in the WTO would create significant economic and social benefit. "Most of the motives of WTO membership focus on economic development, notably per capita income, and making trade transactions between Jordan and world countries more compliant," she explained.

Among the themes scheduled for discussion in Doha is the impact of free trade on investment, labor and environment.

A draft ministerial declaration includes a resolution to establish a multilateral framework of rules to secure transparent, stable and predictable conditions for long-term cross-border investment, particularly foreign-direct investment. The special development, trade and financial needs of developing and least-developed countries is taken in account.

The labor standards issue has also spurned on much debate. While industrial nations agree to examine the link between trade and labor standards, the developing countries say workplace conditions will have to improve through growth and development.

But WTO members agree to the conventions of the International Labor Organization, calling for freedom of association and recognition of the right to collective bargaining; elimination of all forms of forced labor; abolition of child labor; and elimination of discrimination in hiring and employment practices. But trade negotiations among WTO members cannot be realized if they do not correspond with economic growth policies.

Al Namri pointed out Arab nations need to establish a solid common market to be able to face WTO regulations. "The Arabs need to speak in a unified voice for the WTO, and deal with its programs through a co-coordinated manner." Al Namri added some of the Arab countries, including Jordan, Syria and Egypt, are targeted by the WTO to enforce the free-trade policies in their economies.

"The common sense among Arab governments is confused and doubtful," said Dr Munir Hamarneh, professor of economics at the University of Jordan. Hamarneh blames Arab countries for following what he calls an ambiguous policy towards the WTO.

"The Arabs understand and agree with the demands of the developing countries, but also accept the views of the industrial nations. Such policy proves that Arabs are not serious about their economic outlook," he pointed out. Hamarneh warns the global economy is facing an unprecendented crisis that may, eventually, demolish these developing economies.*

Ghassan Joha
The Star

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