On June 5, 2017, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt (“blockading countries”) imposed a land, air and sea blockade against Qatar. Two weeks into the blockade, the blockading countries issued a list of demands that would impair the sovereignty and independence of the State of Qatar (Qatar). These four countries took measures that constitute grave violations of WTO trade and economic agreements. Qatar aims to resolve the dispute through legal means in accordance with WTO regulations to promote mutual consultation before litigation. However, absent any willingness from the blockading countries to engage in negotiations, Qatar filed a WTO complaint in August 2017 against three of the blockading countries: KSA, UAE, and Bahrain.
The first step in the dispute settlement process is significant. When a dispute arises, parties must submit a request for consultation to the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). After 60 days, if the responding party rejects consultation, the complaining party can request in writing for a DSB panel within 30 days from rejection. The Panel request must indicate the status of the consultation: rejected, failed, or on hold.
The Panel consists of three to five experts from different countries, serving in individual capacities and unaffiliated to any government or country. The panel holds two meetings, and drafts two briefs or reports before making its decision. It further gives the parties three weeks to review the final report, prior to sending the decision to all WTO members. The parties also have the chance to appeal the panel’s ruling within 15 days from its issuance.
In accordance with the WTO covered agreements, Qatar requested consultations with the three blockading countries. However, consultations failed since the three responding countries rejected consultations with Qatar claiming the national security exception as a basis for their actions. Qatar had no choice but to take a further step, by taking the dispute to the DSB panel. On November 22, 2017, the WTO agreed to hear Qatar’s complaint against the UAE. The panel will likely rebuke the responding countries for failing in their duty to consult as WTO members. Based on the analysis below, we find that the actions committed by the blockading countries are in violation of the WTO agreements.
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