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West accused of ‘hypocrisy’ on free trade

Gulf Times, Qatar

West accused of ‘hypocrisy’ on free trade

Qatari economist Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed al-Thani criticises Western “double standards” in free trade agreement negotiations

By Sarmad Qazi, Staff Reporter

6 May 2009

A former Qatari minister yesterday lambasted Western “hypocrisy” and “double standards” when it came to free trade agreements (FTAs) with smaller nations. And he maintained that the GCC-US FTA was a thing of the “past”.

Former economy minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed al-Thani said the GCC-EU FTA talks also had been ebbing for the past 18 years as Western negotiators continued to demand things that “question our sovereignty without showing compromises”.

According to him, attempts had been made by Qatar and the UAE for an FTA with the US but “politicisation” of the issue, without taking into consideration local culture and economic needs, meant the process had seen the “enthusiasm” diminish over the years.

“They (the US) knew they won’t be able to achieve it at the bloc level so they went individually to Bahrain and to Oman who needed them badly,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Ahmed, an economist, said during a session on FTA on the last day of the three-day ninth Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade.

The biggest production of GCC is hydrocarbon, and its associated industries. The six-member bloc is expected to meet 50% of global oil demand by 2020.
“The hydrocarbon equation was taken out of FTA, leaving it less appealing to us,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Jassim said.

“The other thing is prejudice. Look at the “war on terrorism”, Iraq etc. Businessmen can’t even get visas to go to the US,” he said.

“If we attempt to buy assets, we are told to restrict them to 5% in the name of national security.”

Another example of the “double standards”, according to him, was when his government was criticised for having a national debt of around 20% to the GDP, but the same debt of the US “has now mounted to 50% and yet their economy is still rated AAA”.

He expected changes in the world order in the next five years and since there was no other economic model every country should study in detail the FTA before embarking on the process. “It’s a good thing to have but countries should not concede to the associated pressure, if any.”

French-Qatar Friendship Society president and MP Maurice Leroy said that rather than creating new institutions, an overhauling of regulations was the key to solve the current economic crisis.