WTO sets Doha as venue, but stumbles on dates for ministerial

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 30 Jan 2001 -- The General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed Tuesday to accept the invitation of the Government of Qatar to hold the next ministerial conference at Doha.

But the Council stumbled on the dates—discovering that the original dates suggested (and agreed last week at informal consultations) coincided with a summit meeting in Rome of the Food and Agricultural Organization.

The FAO had decided two years ago to have its next general conference (which meets once in two years) meet at the end of the two-week session at the level of heads of state/governments, and set the dates for it on 5-7 November. That meeting is to consider and agree on measures to ensure food security in the developing countries.

It is a commentary perhaps of the disconnect between the WTO and its conference division that this coincidence was not known to them until the FAO Director-General Diouf wrote to the WTO Director-General Mike Moore about the clash of dates and suggesting that the WTO reconsider its meeting dates .

Member countries (including Qatar, as the host) are to consult their capitals and come back next week to fix the date—with an alternative date of 29 October to 2 November.

At the informal General Council meeting Tuesday (which preceded the formal session where the venue was settled), all members underscored the need to avoid the clash.

The government of Qatar has indicated already that the meeting which it has offered to host cannot be held after 9 November, due to the commencement of Ramadan the following month (and the need of Muslims to get back to their homes before that). The dates after Ramadan ends (around 16 December) will be too close to the X'mas holidays.

And the juggling of dates has also to take account of the APEC summit expected to be held in mid-October in China. – SUNS4825

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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