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US calls on Saudis to give up special status at WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters are seen in Geneva on April 12, 2018. [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]
The World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters are seen in Geneva on April 12, 2018. [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]

The US has called on Saudi Arabia to give up its status as a "developing" country at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which confers upon the Kingdom special treatment in economic negotiations.

"Saudi Arabia is a wealthy and influential player in the global economy," said Washington in a statement at the WTO. The Geneva-based organisation is carrying out its third review of the trade policies and practices of the Kingdom, a process due to end tomorrow.

Objections to Saudi Arabia's designation as a developing country are partly to do with the fact that it is also a member of the G20, a forum of the world's biggest economies. Riyadh hosted the G20 meeting online in November.

The "special and differential treatment provisions" conferred by its status at the WTO include longer time periods in which to reduce tariffs and greater access to trading opportunities.

Read: WTO to investigate Qatari allegations of Saudi piracy

There are, however, no WTO definitions of "developed" and "developing" countries. Members announce for themselves whether they are "developed" or "developing". Other members can challenge the decision of any state seeking to benefit from the provisions available to developing countries.

The purpose of the different status allowances is to ensure that all WTO members safeguard the interests of developing countries. The goal is to help them to integrate within the global economy.

"We call on Saudi Arabia to no longer seek special and differential treatment in current and future WTO negotiations," said the US in its statement. "By taking this step, Saudi Arabia would make a significant contribution to ensuring that the WTO remains a viable forum for meaningful trade negotiations."

The US also raised the issue of piracy, in what appears to be a rebuke for the Saudis over the beoutQ case. In 2018 Riyadh faced a $1 billion lawsuit after being accused of "breaching international law" in relation to the streaming of sporting events of which the broadcasting rights were owned by Qatar-based media group beIN. The US delegation urged the Kingdom to improve its protection of intellectual property and voiced concerns about data privacy and planned revisions to its excise tax on beverages.

Asia & AmericasInternational OrganisationsMiddle EastNewsSaudi ArabiaUSWorld Trade Organisation
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