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Sunday, 14 October, 2001, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Doha in doubt for WTO talks
Goh Chok Hong
Prime minister Goh Chok Tong welcomes the delegates
The new round of world trade talks scheduled to start in November are still on the cards, according to diplomats thrashing out the agenda at a meeting in Singapore.

But the venue - Doha, in Qatar - is looking increasingly doubtful.


September 11... marks the conflict between globalisation and isolationism, between free trade and protectionism

Goh Chok Tong
Singapore prime minister
Security is the main concern among some delegates to the informal World Trade Organisation gathering this weekend.

Worries have been voiced that Doha's location in the Middle East is too close to the epicentre of the current tension over terrorism.

But on the other hand, the slight to a Muslim country if Doha were to be passed over could cause problems, and in any case moving the WTO summit at such short notice could be seen as giving in to terrorism.

Doha was originally chosen as a way of stemming the likely mass of protestors, who were instrumental in making the last WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 an ignominious failure.

Heading east

Singapore itself is one possible alternative location, as its trade minister, George Yeo, confirmed.

"Singapore and a number of other countries have been sounded out in an informal way whether we could host (the meeting) in an emergency," he said.

"We could do something on a much scaled down basis."

Dog sniffing packages
Sniffer dogs are part of tight security efforts
So far, World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington DC, as well as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting due earlier in October in Brisbane, have all been casualties of the new caution.

But he stressed that the talks themselves were not in doubt, even though there has vicious wrangling over agenda items including agriculture and services.

The agenda was "85-90% of the way there", Yeo told reporters.

The compromises made include dropping all references to a "new round", which has been a sticking point with developing countries

They say the benefits from the last round have yet to trickle down to them, and accuse their richer neighbours of blocking or foot-dragging on agreements which would benefit the poor.

Food issues

Arguments are still going on about agriculture in particular, with Europe and Japan continuing to hold out against liberalising their domestic markets.

But others, including Singapore and the US, have stressed that fresh negotiations are necessary to counteract the economic effects of the 11 September attacks.

Speaking at the opening of the 22-country meeting, Singapore's prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, said there was now a clear choice.

"September 11 does not merely mark the conflict between civilised behaviour and terrorism, it also marks the conflict between globalisation and isolationism, between free trade and protectionism," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
WTO Director General Mike Moore
"There is a level of uncertainty"
World trade wars are looming

Road to Doha

Major trade disputes

Background
See also:

13 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
12 Oct 01 | Business
12 Oct 01 | Business
12 Oct 01 | Business
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