Trade talks 'likely to be moved' as Middle East tensions grow

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The venue of long-awaited talks on a new global trade agreement is almost certain to be moved from the Middle East, it was reported yesterday.

There are growing doubts that the meeting of the World Trade Organisation will go ahead as planned in the Gulf state of Qatar next month.

Concerns over security for Qatar were voiced when ministers from 21 WTO countries met in Singapore at the weekend to try to resolve differences over whether to launch a new round of trade liberalisation talks.

Singapore's trade minister, George Yeo, said that the island state, which staged the organisation's first big gathering in 1996, would be ready to host a smaller ministerial meeting if it were switched from Qatar.

It now looks unlikely that all the trade ministers from the 142 countries of the WTO would be willing to travel to Qatar in the wake of warnings of further terrorist attacks.

"I would say it is 90 per cent certain that we will have to go elsewhere, given the growing tensions affecting the Middle East region over the past few days," one WTO envoy told Reuters.

However, Qatar is pushing ahead with preparations to host the event.

"Qatar has not received an official request to move the meeting to another location," said the deputy head of the meeting's organising committee, Abdul Aziz al-Khulaifi.

A WTO spokesman, who declined to comment on a possible change of venue, said preparations were continuing at its Geneva headquarters and in Doha, the Qatari capital.