Qatar res­i­dents ‘panic buy’ food after Saudi bor­der clo­sure


JED­DAH: Qatar res­i­dents flocked to su­per­mar­kets on Mon­day to stock up on food, in re­sponse to Saudi Ara­bia’s de­ci­sion to close the coun­try’s sole land bor­der ef­fec­tive Mon­day morn­ing.

So­cial me­dia users re­ported “panic buy­ing,” with pho­to­graphs of over­flow­ing shop­ping carts and empty shelves after ma­jor Gulf states cut diplo­matic ties with Doha.

“The sever­ity of the Qatari em­bargo will de­pend on its du­ra­tion,” said John Sfakianaki­s, direc­tor of eco­nomic re­search at the Gulf Re­search Cen­ter (GRC). If this is a pro­longed mat­ter, then “this will have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on trad­able goods be­tween the Gulf and Qatar,” the Riyadh-based econ­o­mist told Arab News.

Thou­sands of trucks filled with food were stuck at the SaudiQatar bor­der and were un­able to en­ter Qatar early on Mon­day.

Saudi aca­demic Ha­toon Al-Fassi, who is based in Doha, said shops were full of peo­ple on Mon­day, but shelves soon emp­tied. She said it re­sem­bled what peo­ple would do when on the verge of en­ter­ing “a state of war.”

“Staff at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity based here (in Doha) re­ceived of­fi­cial state­ments that they should stock up on food and wa­ter,” Al-Fassi, who teaches at Qatar Univer­sity, told Arab News.

Qatar re­ceives much of its food im­ports via land from the King­dom, the only coun­try Qatar shares a land bor­der with. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the Fu­ture Direc­tions In­ter­na­tional re­search in­sti­tute in 2015, most of Qatar’s food im­ports are shipped through the Strait of Hor­muz or across the- Saudi bor­der. With the shut­down of land ac­cess from the King­dom, some ex­pect Qatar to fall short on food prod­ucts, forc­ing it to find a sub­sti­tute.

There will be al­ter­na­tive trad­ing part­ners for Qatar, but “it could be at a higher cost,” said Sfakianaki­s. “Qatar could opt to im­port more goods via its air fleet. It all re­mains to be seen,” he said.

Sfakianaki­s added that he does not be­lieve the Saudi im­port and ex­port in­dus­try will be af­fected.

Iran said it would pro­vide Qatar with food by sea, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported, cit­ing the semi- of­fi­cial Fars news agency.

The agency quoted Reza Nourani, chair­man of the union of ex­porters of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, as say­ing that food ship­ments sent from Iran can reach Qatar in 12 hours.

Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE halted ex­ports of white sugar to Qatar, as the fall of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the coun­tries hit the food trade, Reuters re­ported on Mon­day. Qatar is de­pen­dent on the King­dom and the UAE for its white sugar im­ports, which are es­ti­mated to at less than 100,000 tons an­nu­ally, ac­cord­ing to the same re­port.

Qatar, with a pop­u­la­tion of 2.3 mil­lion, was plan­ning to re­duce food im­ports to im­prove its self­suf­fi­ciency in the food in­dus­try, as per its Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Pro­gram (QNESP) plan, which came into force in 2014. The plan aims to boost do­mes­tic food pro­duc­tion to sup­ply 40 per­cent of its food con­sump­tion by 2030.

A photo posted on Twit­ter ap­par­ently shows empty shelves in a Qatar su­per­mar­ket.

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