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WTO Meeting Opens in Qatar Amid Tight Security - 2001-11-09

The five-day World Trade Organization conference in Qatar's capital of Doha has opened amid fears the world's weakening economy will lead to a desire for greater protectionism instead of freer trade. The meeting is being held under extremely tight security.

With hopes of reviving a weakening global economy, delegates from 142 countries opened a five-day ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization aimed at starting new trade liberalization talks. The meeting opened amid extremely tight security, and many countries scaled back their delegations, amid fears of possible terrorist attacks.

Armed troops cordoned off the area around the meeting site, which has been ringed with barbed wire. The United States dispatched to the area a helicopter ship with more than 2,000 Marines.

The ministers are meeting at a time when the world's economy is weakening. WTO Director-General Mike Moore urged the delegates to resist the temptation of protectionism and instead try to trade their way to better economic times.

Razeen Sally is a lecturer with the London School of Economics. He says history has shown greater trade leads to growing economies.

"Liberalizing trade in agriculture, in services and in industrial goods is an all-round benefit. It does lead to higher growth, and as far as developing countries, it is a major contributing factor to reducing poverty. The evidence is overwhelming on that score," he said.

Some developing countries say they have seen little benefit from trade liberalization and that industrial nations are trying to expand their markets.

Officials say one of the bigger battles shaping up at the conference concerns the environment. The European Union is pushing for stricter environmental rules and regulations. Developing countries fear such regulations would be used by the West to deny access to goods from poorer countries.

The number one issue, according to WTO officials, is agriculture. The United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina favor an elimination of agricultural export subsidies. The European Union is resisting. Developing countries say they cannot afford to pay the subsidies, and therefore, are precluded from exporting more products.