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Iran-Qatar Economic Ties Boom After Tehran Helps Doha Fend Off Saudi-led Blockade

By Fuad Mukhtarli November 27, 2017

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For the first seven months of the Iranian calendar, exports of non-oil goods from Iran to Qatar reached $139 million, registering a remarkable 117.5% growth against $146.6 million in 12 months of 2016, according to Iran’s customs administration. / Financial Tribune

Iran is benefiting from the anti-Qatari blockade that was launched by Saudi Arabia in early June, when Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Doha and stopped access to all air, land and sea routes to the emirate, blaming it for supporting and harboring religious militants. Doha has since rejected all charges leveled against it by Riyadh.

For the first seven months of the Iranian calendar (beginning March 21 and through late October), exports of non-oil goods from Iran to Qatar reached $139 million, registering a remarkable 117.5% growth against $146.6 million in 12 months of 2016, according to Iran’s customs administration and reported by Iran’s Financial Tribune.

Bitumen, food and agricultural products accounted for the largest portion of the exports. Exports of bitumen – the black, thick mixture of hydrocarbons that is used to create asphalt and used in roofing –amounted to $28 million, significantly higher than the value of all other commodities.

When Qatar was unexpectedly hit by the blockade in June, Iran’s trade relations with Qatar were not impressive. The latest annual trade figures released by Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization show that the country exported $146.6 million worth of goods, including carpets, cement, steel pipes, beams and industrial oil to Qatar in 2016.

The summer blockade disrupted Qatar’s trade relations, threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances, and forced the world’s richest country per head to seek new markets to acquire food, equipment for its booming natural gas industry, and for procuring building materials needed for the 2022 World Cup construction projects.

After Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt jumped on board with Saudi Arabia, Iran immediately allowed Qatar to use its airspace and provided it with shipments of fresh food and living essentials.

Adnan Musapur, a member of the export committee at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mining, said Iranians have made good headway in the Qatari market. “But we need to prepare ourselves for outperforming competitors there,” Musapur said, according to Exim News.

Qatar had cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016, in a sign of solidarity with its Arab brethren in Riyadh, whose embassy in Tehran was attacked. Despite threats by Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s foreign ministry announced in August 2017 that Doha was sending its envoy back to Tehran after a 20-month break.

Saudi Arabia’s attempt to isolate Qatar ultimately backfired, and led to an improvement in Doha’s political and economic relations with Tehran. Tehran welcomed Doha’s willingness to send back its emissary and turn down the 13-point demands made by Riyadh, vowing to provide Qatar with whatever resources and routes the Arab alliance cut.

The Saudi-led coalition’s 13-point list of demands included cutting ties with terrorist groups, curbing relations with Iran, and closing down media outlets, including Al-Jazeera TV which is based in Doha. Doha vigorously denied backing any extremist groups and rejected to close down Al-Jazeera.

President Donald Trump openly sided with Saudi Arabia during his Middle East tour in May, when at the Arab Islamic American Summit he said Iran has “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” for decades.

“From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump said.

Qatar insists that it maintains cordial relations with Iran out of commercial necessities, as the two share the world’s largest gas field beneath the Persian Gulf, which is the source of Qatar’s vast wealth.