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BUSINESS GUARDIAN guardian.co.tt AUGUST 3 • 2017
Qatar launches wide-ranging
WTO complaint against boycott
Qatar filed a wide-ranging legal com-
plaint at the World Trade Organisation
on Monday to challenge a trade boycott
by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and United
Arab Emirates, the director of Qatar's
WTO office Ali Alwaleed al-Thani told
By formally "requesting consulta-
tions" with the three countries, the
first step in a trade dispute, Qatar
triggered a 60 day deadline for them
to settle the complaint or face litigation
at the WTO and potential retaliatory
"We've given sufficient time to hear
the legal explanations on how these
measures are in compliance with their
commitments, to no satisfactory result,"
"We have always called for dialogue,
for negotiations, and this is part of our
strategy to talk to the members con-
cerned and to gain more information
on these measures, the legality of these
measures, and to find a solution to re-
solve the dispute."
The boycotting states cut ties with
Qatar---a major global gas supplier and
host to the biggest US military base in
the Middle East---on June 5, accusing
it of financing militant groups in Syria,
and allying with Iran, their regional foe,
allegations Doha denies.
The boycotting countries have previ-
ously told the WTO that they would cite
national security to justify their actions
against Qatar, using a controversial and
almost unprecedented exemption al-
lowed under the WTO rules.
They said on Sunday they were ready
for talks to tackle the dispute, the worst
rift between Gulf Arab states in years, if
Doha showed willingness to deal with
The text of Qatar's WTO complaint
cites "coercive attempts at economic
isolation" and spells out how they are
impeding Qatar's rights in the trade in
goods, trade in services and intellectual
The complaints against Saudi Arabia
and the UAE run to eight pages each,
while the document on Bahrain is six
There was no immediate reaction
from the three to Qatar's complaint,
which is likely to be circulated at the
WTO later this week.
The disputed trade restrictions in-
clude bans on trade through Qatar's
ports and travel by Qatari citizens,
blockages of Qatari digital services and
websites, closure of maritime borders
and prohibition of flights operated by
The complaint does not put a value on
the trade boycott, and al-Thani declined
to estimate how much Qatar could seek
in sanctions if the litigation ever reached
that stage, which can take 2-5 years or
longer in the WTO system.
"We remain hopeful that the con-
sultations could bear fruit in resolving
this," he said.
The WTO suit does not include
Egypt, the fourth country involved in
the boycott. Although it has also cut
travel and diplomatic ties with Qatar,
Egypt did not expel Qatari citizens or
ask Egyptians to leave Qatar.
Al-Thani declined to explain why
Egypt was not included.
"Obviously all options are available.
But we have not raised a consultation
request with Egypt yet," he said.
In its WTO case, Qatar would also
draw attention to the impact the boycott
was having on other WTO members,
Many trade diplomats say that us-
ing national security as a defense risks
weakening the WTO by removing a
taboo that could enable countries to
escape international trade obligations.
Al-Thani said governments had wide
discretion to invoke the national secu-
rity defense but it had to be subject to
"If it is self-regulating, that is a dan-
ger to the entire multilateral trading sys-
tem itself. And we believe the WTO will
take that into consideration." AP
Threat of a bitcoin
split avoided, for now
On the eve of a major change in bitcoin, a threat of a
split in the digital currency has been avoided---for now.
A move by users to force a change in the computer
code by Monday has worked. A majority of "miners"---
the core bitcoin users who verify bitcoin transactions
around the world---has signaled support. Though the
change is designed to improve capacity on the in-
creasingly clogged network, some miners had objected
because it could reduce transaction fees they collect.
The show of support has helped reverse a slide in
the value of bitcoin from around US$1,900 two weeks
ago to roughly US$2,800 on Monday.
However, some uncertainty still remains. A May
agreement between large bitcoin companies effec-
tively pushes the threat of a split off until November.
And one proposal to launch an alternative currency,
Bitcoin Cash, is sowing fears of scam trades.
Here's a look at the current dispute.
WHAT IS BITCOIN?
Bitcoin is a digital currency that's not tied to any
bank or government . Like cash, it lets users spend or
receive money anonymously, or mostly so; like other
online payment services, it also lets them do so over
The coins are created by miners, who operate com-
puter farms that verify other users' transactions by
solving complex mathematical puzzles. These miners
receive bitcoin in exchange. It's also possible to ex-
change bitcoin for US dollars and other currencies.
Bitcoin has been touted as a currency of the future,
but so far it hasn't proven very popular as a way to
pay for goods or services.
WHAT'S BEHIND THE FUSS?
In a word, speed.
The bitcoin network is limited in how quickly it can
shuffle around digital money. As bitcoin has grown,
payment delays have become more common and
Some software developers came up with a way to
speed things up by reengineering bitcoin's universal
ledger, a file called the blockchain. Supporters of the
new method include Microsoft, the bitcoin exchange
Coinbase and a variety of other bitcoin proponents
who would like to see the currency used more widely
Reformers had threatened to stop recognizing trans-
actions confirmed by miners who hadn't adopted the
WHAT WOULD A SPLIT MEAN?
Generally speaking, chaos though mostly limited
to those who use or squirrel away bitcoin. People who
use bitcoin couldn't be sure which version they held,
or what might happen if they spent it or accepted
bitcoin as payment.
Taking bitcoin, for instance, could leave you with
currency you couldn't spend freely and that might
disappear entirely if it ended up being the "wrong"
That's one reason the community-supported web-
site Bitcoin.org had warned users not to accept any
bitcoin up to two days prior to Monday's deadline
and to wait for confirmation the situation had been
resolved before trading again.
But the change now has the support needed to pro-
ceed, so a disruption isn't likely this week.
A separate group of developers sought to solve the
speed issue by proposing a new currency called Bitcoin
Cash. It effectively rewards every owner of bitcoin
with an equal amount of the new currency using a
system that can handle much higher volumes of trades.
But some digital currency exchange operators---in-
cluding Coinbase and Bitstamp---have said they won't
support Bitcoin Cash.
And Cornell computer science professor Emin Gun
Sirer says savvy traders can game the system to create
free money for themselves.
Meanwhile, major companies that came together
on the May agreement committed to a second change
by November that could still result in a split of bit-
coin into two incompatible currencies if a significant
number of miners don't agree. AP
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