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US calls on Saudi Arabia to forgo 'developing' country status at WTO

Washington says Riyadh is 'wealthy and influential player' that should not get special treatment by World Trade Organisation
Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20, a forum of the world's largest economies.
Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20, a forum of the world's largest economies (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

The United States is calling on Saudi Arabia to give up its "developing" status at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which grants the kingdom special treatment in economic negotiations, noting that the G20 member was designated as a high-income country by the World Bank.

"Saudi Arabia is a wealthy and influential player in the global economy," Washington said in a statement to the WTO on Wednesday.

"We call on Saudi Arabia to no longer seek special and differential treatment in current and future WTO negotiations. By taking this step, Saudi Arabia would make a significant contribution to ensuring that the WTO remains a viable forum for meaningful trade negotiations."

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On Wednesday, the WTO held its third review of Saudi Arabia, where the organisation assessed the Gulf kingdom's economic growth and the development of its trade policies.

Riyadh is currently considered to be a developing member of the WTO, meaning it receives "special and differential treatment provisions", including longer time periods in reducing tariffs and increased access to trading opportunities.

The rules also aim to ensure that all WTO members safeguard the interests of developing country members.

The goal of these measures is to help lesser-developed countries integrate themselves into the global economy.

The WTO does not have a specific policy on what constitutes a developing country, and any member nation can declare itself one, according to Bloomberg News.

Still, despite this designation by the WTO, the World Bank identifies Saudi Arabia as high-income, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $793bn in 2019.

The kingdom is also a member of the Group of 20, a forum of the world's biggest economies, and virtually hosted its latest meeting last November.

The US has previously asserted that other countries listed as "developing" in the WTO should withdraw their status, namely China, which currently has the world's second-largest economy.

Former President Donald Trump heavily criticised China's special and differential treatment at the WTO. He described the designation in November 2019 as "one of the reasons they've taken advantage of us".

Last year, the WTO issued a 130-page report outlining that the Saudi government was behind beoutQ, a streaming service that pirated content from Qatari-owned sports network beIn Media Group.

A month before the report, the US placed Saudi Arabia on a watch list for failing to protect and enforce intellectual property rights around the world, identifying beoutQ as a main offender.