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29 May, 2018 17:03

Blockade blowback: Qatar bans Saudi imports as it eyes closer economic ties with Turkey, Iran

Qatar’s new ban on Arab products signals that the year-long Saudi-led blockade aimed at keeping Doha in Riyadh’s economic and political orbit has likely backfired, an analyst told RT.

Qatar’s Ministry of Economy and Commerce announced on Saturday that it would prohibit the sale of all products made in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt – nearly a year after the four Arab states severed diplomatic ties with Doha and imposed sanctions and airspace restrictions.

Despite the original embargo, it was still possible for Qataris to purchase Saudi and Egyptian goods that had been rerouted through Kuwait and Oman. The ministry said the new, stringent provisions were motivated by “protectionism” and a need for “consumer safety.”

The import ban suggests that Qatar now feels confident enough – both politically and economically – to strike back, Jack Rasmus, professor of political economy at Saint Mary's College of California, told RT.

“Qatar probably feels that the US military bases [it hosts] are important enough that it can take reciprocal action,” Rasmus said, adding that Washington must tread carefully if it hopes to persuade Qatar to embrace its hardline stance on Iran.

“Qatar might go its own way, find alternative markets – which is now Turkey and so forth. And that would be a kind of difficulty for the Trump administration if Qatar develops its relationship with Iran and Iranian markets, which it wants to do. It would signal a decline or loss of US influence and the united front among its allies there against Iran.”

According to Rasmus, the Saudi-led blockade, which aimed in part to discourage Doha from developing bilateral relations with Iran, has not produced the desired results for Riyadh.

“The blockade had an initial effect on the Qataris, but they have quickly adjusted to that. They’ve established relationships with other economies, and in the long run [the blockade] won’t have much effect on their economy. They have a lot of exports and energy products – and a lot of people will want to buy them,” Rasmus said.

Doha signed a transportation agreement with Turkey and Iran in November 2017, which facilitated trilateral trade and increased exports to Qatar in the wake of the blockade.

In March, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that the effect of the blockade on economic activity in Qatar had been “transitory” as new trade routes were quickly established and growth remained positive.

The Saudi-led quartet imposed the economic blockade last June, after accusing Qatar of sponsoring “terrorism” and destabilizing the region. Riyadh and its Arab partners later issued an ultimatum, threatening to maintain the economic pressure until Qatar agreed to shut down its state broadcaster Al Jazeera, expel Turkish troops from its territory, scale back ties with Iran, and end relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement. Doha swiftly rejected the list of demands.

A year later, Qatar may now be seeking new leverage to negotiate with its Arab rivals – or perhaps is even charting a new, independent course in defiance of Riyadh, Rasmus suggested.

“The Saudis are trying to re-establish control of the whole peninsula, the way they once had. They’re getting nervous that they are losing control over the peninsula, maybe, in several different ways. And the Saudis of course see themselves as eventually having a conflict probably with Iran. And they want to make sure that the whole region is still under their hegemony. Which, of course, increasingly, it isn’t.”

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