Will trade ties pave the way to regional concord? In December 2005, Saudi Arabia became the 149th member of the World Trade Organisation. As a member of the world's largest trading group, the kingdom is no longer allowed to boycott goods from a fellow member. Francis Daly reports from Riyadh.

Author:Daly, Francis

MANY PEOPLE HOLD THE VIEW that trade is as good a way as any to ensure peace and stability between the nations of the world. Others would go further, adding that peaceful relations are far more likely between trade partners than simply through mere membership of an organisation such as the United Nations. Countries who have mutual financial interests, the argument states, are less likely to go to war with one another, thereby threatening their own financial self-interest.

It could be said it is for this very reason that since its creation, Israel has not enjoyed any level of significant trade with other countries in the Middle East. The Arab League has long held a powerful and blanket boycott of Israeli goods and services to be a matter of principal. That said, with membership of the WTO comes certain rights and responsibilities, which Saudi Arabia accepted before the final signatures were put to its membership certificate.

Among the rights that WTO members enjoy are easier trade agreements with fellow members, and as competition enters the market place the benefits of this are supposed to be seen with consumers, both through increased choice and decreased prices.

On the responsibilities side, compliance with WTO legislation is required of all members, which officials from the WTO have confirmed is as true of Saudi Arabia as any other member. Among the requirements of membership is the demand that no member may boycott goods from another member, thus bringing to the fore the question of the Arab League and Israel.

Saudi Arabia's own journey towards WTO membership took 12 years of lengthy negotiation between WTO officials and the Saudi government before coming to a successful end. During this time, the vexed question of trade embargoes was frequently held up as an obstacle to Saudi membership. But an end to the boycott was required before membership would be granted to the world's largest oil exporter.

The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, holder of the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is acutely aware of the special place both he and the land he rules over has in the eyes of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

After the announcement that membership had been granted, a Saudi government statement said simply that "Upon accession to the WTO, Saudi Arabia will give every member equal treatment according to the articles of the WTO agreements." An official WTO statement said that Saudi Arabia had promised to lift the boycott. The press in...

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