Egypt is eyeing a late June date to host the next World Trade
Organization "mini-ministerial" meeting, Egyptian officials
told BNA February 28.
The officials said the meeting, which will bring together trade
ministers from some two dozen WTO member countries, is expected to be held
sometime between June 28 and July 3. The location will be Sharm El Sheikh, a
popular resort town on the Red Sea recently in the headlines for hosting an
Arab League summit on Iraq.
The "mini-ministerials" are meetings held outside the formal
WTO framework which bring together trade ministers to discuss key items on
the WTO's work agenda and to prepare for the organization's September
ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico.
Advocates for the meetings, such as U.S. Trade Representative Robert
Zoellick, see the gatherings as important in keeping top trade
officials engaged in the WTO process and paving the way for a smooth Cancun
Egypt made an offer to host the meeting at a previous mini-ministerial
in Sydney, Australia last November. A subsequent mini-ministerial took
place in Tokyo, Japan on Feb. 14-16.
Egyptian officials said they expect the same number of ministers to be
invited as at the previous mini-ministerials, although they added that
Egypt would probably push for greater representation from African and
the Arab world. The Quad Group (the United States, European Union, Japan,
and Canada) will, as usual, be on the invitation list.
Some WTO officials have expressed doubts whether the meeting will take
place because of potential instability in the region arising from a
possible war with Iraq. Egyptian officials counter that the WTO went
ahead with its previous ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar in November
2001 despite post-Sept. 11 security fears and war clouds looming over
More doubts have been expressed about the benefits of such meetings,
which have aroused considerable resentment among those countries not on the
invitation list. Critics point out that the last two meetings produced
no tangible benefits and were perhaps counterproductive.
A declaration by ministers in Sydney that they were close to reaching
an agreement on improving access to essential medicines in poor countries
proved illusionary when negotiations resumed in Geneva, and the Tokyo meeting
was marred by sharp differences over WTO agriculture chairman Stuart
Harbinson's first draft text on modalities for the farm trade talks.