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
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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.
 


PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

Updated 1 min 54 sec ago
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PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

  • Hassan remained vocal and presented his party position after the May 9 riots that followed ex-PM’s detention
  • PTI calls the attack ‘very shameful and reprehensible’ as the opposition stages a walkout from Pakistan’s Senate

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Tuesday one of its senior leaders, Raoof Hassan, was injured in an attack carried out by unknown people after he arrived at the office of a private news channel in Islamabad.
Hassan, who has served as the PTI spokesperson, gained political prominence following a crackdown on the party after the May 9 riots, which erupted in the wake of Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
The crackdown resulted in the incarceration of top PTI leadership, many of whom continue to remain behind bars. Despite these circumstances, Hassan was vocal, addressing news conferences and passionately advocating for his party’s position.
“Very shameful and reprehensible,” the PTI said in a social media post after the attack. “Central Information Secretary Rauf Hassan attacked by unknown persons outside the office of a private channel.”


The party also shared Hassan’s video in which one can see blood coming out of his face as he walks into a building.
The news of the incident quickly spread around the federal capital, prompting the opposition to stage a walkout from the Senate.


Saudi Ma’aden extracting lithium from seawater, CEO says  

Updated 1 min 35 sec ago
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Saudi Ma’aden extracting lithium from seawater, CEO says  

RIYADH: Saudi Arabian Mining Co. Ma’aden has successfully extracted lithium from seawater, although not at levels that are commercially viable, and its project remains at the pilot stage, the company's CEO told Reuters on Tuesday.  

“We are actually producing lithium from seawater now,” Robert Wilt said.  

Wilt, who is also the vice chairman of Manara Minerals, also said that company was not looking at acquiring diamond business De Beers. “We are not looking at De Beers at all,” he said.  


Germany’s Kroos to retire from football after Euro 2024

Updated 9 min 4 sec ago
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Germany’s Kroos to retire from football after Euro 2024

  • “My career as an active footballer will end this summer after the Euro championship,” Kroos said on Instagram
  • Real said Kroos “will go down in Real Madrid history as one of our club and international football’s greatest legends”

MADRID: Real Madrid’s German international midfielder Toni Kroos announced on Tuesday he will retire from all football after Euro 2024.
“My career as an active footballer will end this summer after the Euro championship,” 34-year-old Kroos, who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, said on Instagram.
Before the European Championship, Kroos has a chance to win the Champions League with Real for a fifth time when they face Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on June 1.
He also won the Champions League with Bayern Munich before joining the Spanish giants.
Kroos joined Real in 2014 and quickly formed a formidable midfield partnership with Luka Modric.
In a statement on their website, Real said Kroos “will go down in Real Madrid history as one of our club and international football’s greatest legends.”
Kroos has also won the Liga title four times and won the Bundesliga three times with Bayern.
He announced he was quitting international football in July 2021 but reversed his decision in February after talks with Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann, who persuaded him to play on till the Euro 2024 on home soil.
Kroos, who has racked up 108 caps and 17 goals for Germany, was one of the key players when they won the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and scored twice when they inflicted a 7-1 defeat on the host nation in the semifinals.
But four years later he was unable to prevent Germany from crashing out in the group stage in Russia.
He did not play in Germany’s second World Cup group-stage exit in a row at Qatar 2022 but, after making his international return at Nagelsmann’s request, will lead a new-look Germany side at Euro 2024.
“My ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level,” Kroos said on Instagram.
“I am happy and proud that in my mind I found the right timing for my decision and that I could choose it on my own.”


Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

Updated 24 min 50 sec ago
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Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

  • Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield
  • “We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said

KYIV: Thousands of Ukrainian inmates are seeking to join the military, Kyiv said Tuesday, following a decision by lawmakers enabling some categories of prisoners to join the armed forces.
The move echoes a policy in Russia, where tens of thousands of prisoners have been sent to Ukraine with the promise of amnesty and were killed in gruelling battles that produced few gains.
Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield that have allowed Russian forces to advance on the eastern and northern front lines.
“This is more than 3,000 people. We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said, referring to the number of prisoners who have submitted applications to join the military.
She said authorities had identified 20,000 eligible prisoners and that of them, 4,500 had “expressed interest” in joining. She added that the figure was likely to fluctuate.
Only prisoners with fewer than three years left on their sentence can apply. Mobilized prisoners are granted parole rather than a pardon.
Among those not eligible to serve include those found guilty of sexual violence, killing two or more people, serious corruption and former high-ranking officials.
Russia has recruited prisoners to serve on the front lines since the first days of its invasion, initially offering presidential pardons for six months’ service.


Experts warn of health risks as Pakistan braces for severe heatwave

Updated 27 min 48 sec ago
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Experts warn of health risks as Pakistan braces for severe heatwave

  • The meteorological department says temperatures may rise up to 50°C in parts of Pakistan in the coming days
  • Health experts say heatstroke can damage brain, heart and kidneys, leading to serious complications or even death

KARACHI: Experts on Tuesday warned of health risks and advised people to limit time spent in harsh sunlight as Pakistan is poised to experience some of the hottest weather conditions in the coming days.
According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), a heatwave is expected to hit parts of Pakistan this week, with temperatures in certain areas of the southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces potentially surging past 40°C.
The PMD also warned of glacial lake outburst floods in the country’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to rising temperatures.
In previous years, heatstroke, which occurs when the body temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in the heat, has been reported by dozens.
“Without prompt care, heatstroke can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and other organs, leading to serious complications or death,” Dr. Naseem Salahuddin told Arab News, adding it was always important to act immediately and cool down the body of a heatwave victim.
“Extreme heat can damage the temperature control center in the brain,” she said, urging caution during high temperatures.
On Tuesday, as of 2 PM, temperature in Jacobabad and Mohenjo Daro reached 47°C, while it was 45°C in Sibbi, Lasbela, Rahimyar Khan, Hyderabad, Khairpur and Bhakar.
“The temperature is expected to further rise from tomorrow, with the upper regions of Sindh experiencing up to 50°C,” Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist, said, noting the heatwave would affect settlements in upper Sindh and Punjab provinces.
With temperatures expected to rise further in coming days, Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, a health expert and former secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, emphasized social awareness was crucial to avoid health problems in such extreme weather.
“People should not spend too much time in the sun,” he said. “If it is essential to go out, the body should be completely covered.”
In June 2015, Pakistan experienced the worst heatwave in the country’s south, especially in its port city Karachi, where over 2,000 people died of dehydration.
Dr. Sajjad recalled the cases where patients, after receiving first-aid, instead of moving to the shade or discontinuing work, went back to perform labor and died shortly thereafter.
“If a person has suffered heatstroke, he or she should be taken to a cold place and not allowed to work, even if they seem to recover,” he said, adding people should pour water on their head in such a case.
He pointed out since climate change had made the weather more extreme, every household should keep umbrellas which should be used by its members to shield themselves from the sun.
“An umbrella should be a must,” he said. “Water intake should be increased to 22 glasses daily to keep the body hydrated.”
Dr. Sajjad also noted that people should consume fresh vegetables and fruits after washing with clean water and avoid dining outside.
“Prevention is better than cure,” he continued. “We don’t see as many deaths now as we unfortunately witnessed during the 2015 heatwave because there was no awareness then. More awareness can keep citizens safe.”