By Andrew Mills
DOHA – Qatar and Saudi Arabia have halted efforts at the World Trade Organization to resolve a dispute over the alleged piracy of content produced by Doha-owned sports and entertainment channel beIN.
The two countries notified the WTO they were “mutually” suspending their remaining requests before its dispute resolution body, notices published by the WTO on Friday show.
Saudi Arabia had appealed against the WTO panel’s 2020 decision that Riyadh breached international rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute beoutQ, the commercial-scale channel that carried the pirated broadcasts.
The WTO decision was made after Doha filed its complaint in 2018, saying Saudi Arabia was blocking Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom and refusing to take effective action against alleged piracy of beIN’s content by beoutQ.
Starting in 2017, beIN was blocked in Saudi Arabia as part of a diplomatic, travel and trade boycott Riyadh and its allies imposed on Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denied the claims and said the embargo was designed to undermine its sovereignty.
Qatar’s beIN owns the Middle East broadcasting rights for many of the world’s most valuable sporting events and entertainment, including soccer’s Premier League and FIFA.
Saudi Arabia withdrew its appeal of the WTO’s findings while Qatar suspended a request for the body to formally adopt them, notices the WTO published on Friday showed.
“Qatar agreed to the proposed suspension of the appellate proceedings pursuant to the terms of Al-Ula Declaration,” Qatar’s notice said, adding that it was a “mutually agreed suspension.”
Last January, an agreement signed by Gulf Arab leaders at a summit in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, ended the bitter dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia.
As part of that agreement, Qatar agreed to terminate all legal battles connected to the dispute.
Last October, Riyadh lifted the ban on beIN, though unofficial broadcasts had resumed in Saudi Arabia shortly after the AlUla accords were signed.
In 2018, Qatar also launched a $1 billion investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia over the alleged piracy, separate from the WTO action. The arbitration has not progressed since the AlUla agreements were signed.
On Monday, neither beIN nor Qatar’s Government Communications Office responded to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Andrew Mills; Editing by Paul Simao)