WTO talks in UAE end with no major win, throwing trade body into ‘crisis’

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UAE Minister of Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi speaks during the opening ceremony of the WTO ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi on February 26, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Delegates attend the 13th WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi on February 26, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 02 March 2024

WTO talks in UAE end with no major win, throwing trade body into ‘crisis’

  • The outcome highlights the sharp divisions among the body´s 164 members amid geopolitical tensions and economic headwinds that are threatening global commerce

ABU DHABI: A high-level WTO conference ended Saturday with a temporary extension of an e-commerce moratorium but no deals on agriculture and fisheries, throwing into doubt the effectiveness of the multilateral trade body.

The outcomes of the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi highlighted the sharp divisions between the body´s 164 members amid geopolitical tensions and economic headwinds that are threatening global commerce.
“The WTO needed a good crisis and perhaps this will lead to a realization that we cannot continue like this,” said a senior European Union official participating in the talks.
Speaking at the closing press conference, the Emirati chair of the so-called MC13 gathering, Thani Al Zeyoudi, acknowledged the shortcomings.
“Despite our best efforts, we failed to agree on some texts which are of great importance to many of our members,” said Al Zeyoudi, who also serves as the UAE’s foreign trade minister.
For her part, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the talks came up “against an international backdrop marked by greater uncertainty than at any time I can remember.”
“We have achieved some important things and we have not managed to complete others,” she said, while insisting that the “glass was half full.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO director-general, speaks during the opening ceremony of the WTO ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 26, 2024. (REUTERS)

The WTO, the only international body dealing with the rules of trade between nations, requires full consensus from all members to chalk up deals.
It was hoping the MC13 would replicate the landmark success of its 2022 ministerial in Geneva, which yielded a deal on fisheries and saw members agree to restore a now-defunct dispute settlement system by the end of this year.
But the latest ministerial fell short of that objective.
“The unexpected weakness of the overall (MC13) package should... serve as a wake-up call,” the secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, John Denton, said in a statement.

After a 2022 deal that banned subsidies contributing to illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing, the WTO was hoping to conclude a second package focusing on subsidies that result in overcapacity and overfishing.
Negotiations in recent months at the WTO headquarters in Geneva had enabled a draft text to be brought forward for a second fisheries deal, which provided flexibility and advantages for developing countries.
But some — notably India — demanded further concessions, including transition periods that others consider to be too long.
At MC13, a revised draft fisheries agreement faced strong objections from New Delhi.
“There was basically just one country that was blocking the deal,” said EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, without specifying which member.
Richard Ouellet of Canada’s University of Laval said “consensus, which was once the cement of this organization, has now become the mud in which it is bogged down.”

With farmer protests sweeping Europe and India, agriculture agreements also emerged as a particularly sensitive topic of debate.
Member states were trying to negotiate a text listing the subjects that merit further discussion.
An agriculture package, however, was hampered by a firm demand by India for permanent rules governing public stockholding of food reserves to replace temporary measures adopted by the WTO.
India’s insistence on a permanent solution for public stockholding was “impossible to bridge,” Dombrovskis said.
Despite failing on agriculture and fisheries, the WTO managed to temporarily salvage a moratorium on customs duties for digital transmissions that was extended for another two years.
It faced a particularly strong challenge at MC13, with countries led by India and South Africa arguing that it harms customs revenues.
India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said Friday that he allowed the extension to pass “out of respect” to the conference’s Emirati chair, whom he called a “good friend.”

India's Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal prepares to brief journalists at a WTO meeting in Abu Dhabi on February 29, 2024. (REUTERS)

However, the moratorium, which has been regularly extended since 1998, is set to definitively expire on March 31, 2016, with no chance of an extension, Iweala said.
“I think that the membership has agreed... on very firm dates for its conclusion,” she said.
“I have to abide by what the membership has just decided.”
On dispute settlement reform, the final outcome mainly reiterated the commitment made at MC12 to have a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system in place by 2024.
Washington, under former President Donald Trump, brought the system to a grinding halt in 2019 by blocking the appointment of new judges to the WTO’s appeals court, the organization’s highest dispute settlement authority.
“We wished for more progress on the question of appeal... but we were not able to move forward as fast as we wanted,” Dombrovskis said.

Pakistan has pitched ‘epic menu’ of $30 billion investment projects to Riyadh — foreign minister

Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Pakistan has pitched ‘epic menu’ of $30 billion investment projects to Riyadh — foreign minister

  • Ishaq Dar says Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Pakistan for three days from April 22-25
  • Says Saudi crown prince has accepted PM’s invitation to visit Pakistan, timing being discussed 

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said on Thursday Pakistan had pitched an “epic menu” of investment projects worth $30 billion to Saudi Arabia during a visit this week by the Kingdom’s foreign chief, adding that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi would visit Islamabad from April 22-25.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was in Islamabad earlier this week where he said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in the South Asian nation. His visit followed a meeting in Makkah between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which the Kingdom had pledged to expedite $5 billion in investments.
Speaking to journalists at an informal meet-and-greet on Thursday afternoon, Dar said Pakistan had pitched projects worth $30 billion to the Saudi delegation, which would “take time” to materialize. 
“It’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight,” the foreign minister said. “We have given them a big epic menu to select [from]. After that their expression of interest has been indicated. On that, we will get details on [April] 28, so it takes time. But all vibes are very positive.”
Dar said PM Sharif had invited the Saudi crown prince to visit Pakistan during their meeting in Makkah earlier this month:
“He has very kindly accepted the invitation. The timing of the visit will obviously be sorted out between diplomatic channels of the two countries.”
Responding to a question about a planned visit by Iran’s Raisi to Pakistan, Dar said it had been in the works for “weeks and months.”
“He is coming. The visit is on the cards on 22, 23, 24 [April] and we are preparing fully for this.”
Dar also said Afghan Interim Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi had invited him to visit Afghan when the two leaders spoke on the telephone last month.
No country has recognized Taliban rule since they seized power in August 2021, after the Western-backed government collapsed as the last US-led international troops departed following two decades of war.
When asked if he would accept Muttaqi’s invitation to visit Kabul, Dar responded: 
“By not interacting we will achieve nothing … so my own fundamental thinking is this, but obviously it [visit] is subject to clearance by the prime minister and MOFA [ministry of foreign affairs] advice that at the appropriate time we will definitely visit.”
Dar also spoke about tensions in the Middle East as the Israeli military has pledged a response to Iran’s retaliatory strikes last week for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1. 
Israel and its allies mostly shot down all missiles and drones and there were no deaths, but Israel says it must retaliate to preserve the credibility of its deterrents. Iran says it views the matter as closed but will retaliate again if Israel does.
“Our policy guidelines are about peace, we don’t want any confrontation, we want a peaceful resolution, we want a Gaza solution as soon as possible,” Dar said when asked about the possibility of escalation. 
“We want a ceasefire in Gaza, we want a Palestinian permanent state.”

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 4 min 55 sec ago

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 29 min 50 sec ago

Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.

ilmi, PNU launch museum studies program

Updated 27 min 13 sec ago

ilmi, PNU launch museum studies program

  • New micro-credential courses open to all high-school graduates, undergraduates
  • Program includes Arabic, English, in-person, remote, long and short-term courses

RIYADH: A new museum studies program in Saudi Arabia has opened for registration, offering micro-credential and long-term courses.

It is the result of a partnership between ilmi, a center for science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and mathematics learning, and Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University.

ilmi — meaning “my knowledge” in Arabic — is a science and innovation center that aims to empower young people in Saudi Arabia.

A philanthropic NGO initiative created by Princess Sara bint Mashour bin Abdulaziz, wife of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ilmi is incubated, supported and funded by the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation, Misk, as a subsidiary, and operates in partnership with Mohammed bin Salman Nonprofit City.

The museum studies program includes micro-credential, diploma, minor and elective courses.

It is open to recent high-school graduates and university undergraduates keen to secure entry-level positions in museums, as well as professionals seeking new skill sets and career paths.

Created by ilmi and PNU experts from Saudi Arabia and around the world, the program offers a blend of online and in-person learning, alongside Arabic and English tuition options.

Micro-credential courses will blend online and in-person learning, and are available to applicants over the age of 18.

Courses include museum impact studies, museum education and awareness, an introduction to museum technologies, fundamentals of museum management and integrating digital technology.

Courses on offer for PNU students include an introduction to museums elective and specialist minors in museums and digital technology, exhibit design and content development.

A two-year diploma in museum management will also be available for both PNU students and recent high-school graduates.

Registration has opened for the first online micro-credential course starting this month: Fundamentals of museum management.

All further micro-credential courses will take place in May and June, with the diploma, minor and elective programs starting in September at the beginning of the academic year 2024/25.

Program graduates can also apply to work alongside ilmi experts as they design and launch unique, informal learning programs across the Kingdom.

For more information and registration, click here.

Closing Bell: TASI ends the week in green with trading turnover at $2.18bn

Updated 44 min 15 sec ago

Closing Bell: TASI ends the week in green with trading turnover at $2.18bn

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Thursday, gaining 36.37 points, or 0.29 percent, to close at 12,502.35.

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR8.19 billion ($2.18 billion) as 130 stocks advanced, while 90 retreated. 

The MSCI Tadawul Index also increased by 5.98 points, or 0.38 percent, to close at 1,575.11.

The Kingdom’s parallel market, Nomu, followed suit and gained 305.77 points, or 1.16 percent, to close at 26,418.75. This comes as 33 stocks advanced, while as many as 27 retreated.

The best-performing stock on the main index was Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co., as its share price rose by 7.69 percent to SR30.80.

Allianz Saudi Fransi Cooperative Insurance Co. also performed well as its share price saw a 6.79 percent increase to close at SR20.16.

This comes as Abu Dhabi National Insurance Co. completed a strategic acquisition of a 51 percent stake in Allianz, according to the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

ADNIC Chairman Mohamed Al- Nahyan told WAM: “The connection between the UAE and Saudi Arabia is deep, mutually beneficial and ever-growing. At ADNIC, we see Saudi Arabia as a high-potential market which perfectly aligns with our overall growth strategy, and we are looking forward to unlocking new possibilities for growth and success.”

Other top performers include United Cooperative Assurance Co. and Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries and Medical Appliances Corp. whose share prices soared by 5.68 percent and 5.51 percent, to stand at SR11.16 and SR14.16 respectively.

The worst performer was Alkhaleej Training and Education Co., whose share price dropped by 5.27 percent to SR33.25.

On the announcements front, Saudi mining giant and Public Investment Fund subsidiary, Saudi Arabian Mining Co., known as Ma’aden, announced the launch of single stock options in a statement on Tadawul. 

SSOs will enable local and international investors to effectively hedge and manage portfolio risks as well as diversify products available for trading in the market.