Qatar said it backed the right of countries to take bona fide measures to protect their security but that could not be a self-regulating defence (Reuters)
The World Trade Organization agreed Wednesday to hear Qatar's complaint against the United Arab Emirates over a five-month old blockade that has triggered a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.
Qatar turned to the WTO in August, insisting it was the victim of an "illegal siege" perpetrated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which have cut ties with Doha over its links to Iran and accusations that it supports extremists.
In the initial WTO filing, Qatar requested "consultations" with its rivals, a procedural move required by the Geneva-based organisation before a Dispute Settlement Body panel (DSB) can be set up.
Last month Doha made an initial request for a DSB to hear its case against the UAE. Abu Dhabi rejected that bid.
Qatar then made the request a second time, which according to the WTO's often quirky rules, triggered the automatic creation of a panel.
"The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body agreed today, 22 November, to establish a panel to rule on Qatar's complaint regarding various measures imposed by the United Arab Emirates restricting trade in goods and services with Qatar and the protection of Qatari intellectual property rights", a statement from the Geneva-based trade body said.
Qatar's representative at the WTO's dispute settlement body on Wednesday said the UAE had used "provable fabrications, and rhetoric not befitting of this House".
"UAE has asserted an absolute unilateral right to be absolved of all of its substantive and procedural WTO obligations vis-à-vis Qatar based purely on its bald assertion that its coercive attempts to isolate Qatar reflect a security concern," he said.
Qatar said it backed the right of countries to take bona fide measures to protect their security but that could not be a self-regulating defence. No country speaking at the meeting disputed the UAE's right to invoke national security but none spoke up in favour of Qatar's move to litigate either.
The WTO's dispute settlement process can take months, if not years, with initial rulings typically subject to appeal.
Doha categorically denies that it supports extremism. The gas-rich emirate has pivoted closer to Saudi arch-rival Iran through the crisis.