Move by neighboring countries was the catalyst for new and necessary policies, GU-Q professor says.
The blockade of Qatar led to a change of policy-making pace that sharpened the nation’s focus on the next stage of its development, an economist and researcher has claimed during a talk at Qatar Foundation.
Professor Alexis Antoniades, Director of International Economics at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) – a Qatar Foundation partner university - also said that the actions of neighboring countries in June 2017 had little impact on Qatar’s economy, as he presented the findings of a research project into how the nation reacted to the blockade.
The lecture at Qatar National Library, titled The Blockade Against Qatar: A Blessing In Disguise?, saw Dr. Antoniades explain that the blockade “did not lead to a change in policy direction, but a change in policy process”, and that the number of new policies and initiatives launched in the 12 months after Qatar’s neighbors closed their land, sea, and air borders with the country trebled from the year leading up to the move.
“Post-blockade, we have seen people from different institutions working on issues together to develop meaningful policies,” he said.
We needed to stay focused and work faster and more efficiently in delivering policies aligned with Qatar’s national vision.
“It’s not just about numbers; it’s about the value effect. Policy measures were significantly more serious in the period after the blockade. Initiatives were specific and meant business, and they complemented – rather than deviating from – work that had been done in the past.
“We had to design strategies for the diversification of Qatar’s economy, but these were not so much focused on mitigating any impact from the blockade. Instead, we needed to stay focused and work faster and more efficiently in delivering policies aligned with Qatar’s national vision.”
Dr. Antoniades said the blockade had given Qatar a sense of “urgency” in moving into the next stage of its development. He pointed to the fact that, within months of the blockade, the nation’s response had included waiving entry visa requirements for citizens of 80 countries, launching the ‘Own Your Own Factory in Qatar in 72 Hours’ initiative, establishing fish and poultry farms, inaugurating Hamad Port, and introducing new measures to draw more foreign investment into Qatar.
Initiatives are not random, but part of a well-thought-out, well-implemented strategy
“We have almost reached self-sufficiency in poultry, dairy, meat, and fish supplies,” he said. “We have new factories and many new companies registered with Qatar Financial Center. Initiatives are not random, but part of a well-thought-out, well-implemented strategy.”
Analyzing Qatar’s economic performance in the period after the blockade, Dr. Antoniades explained that attributing any slowdown to the events of June 2017 was “a failure to see the big picture”, with factors such as a drop in oil prices after 2014 and a reduction in infrastructure spending following the completion of major projects being key factors.
He said Qatar’s Gross Domestic Product had decreased before the blockade, rather than because of it, and had subsequently risen again as new factories were established; the banking sector had remained unaffected; import levels had rebounded following a temporary post-blockade decline as new supply chains were opened up; and “expanded domestic production” had brought food prices back down after they rose in the wake of the actions of Qatar’s neighbors.
The one sector where the blockade has had a visible impact, according to Dr. Antoniades, is tourism, as he said: “Many tourists came from blockading countries, and there is a mismatch between supply in demand because of the number of new hotels being built.”
And he said Qatar’s ability to weather the effects of the blockade had also been helped by global factors. “Oil prices were low before the blockade, but started to rise after,” he told the audience, “and 2017 was also a very good year for global markets – if there had been a global market crisis, it would have been harder for Qatar.
“Qatar has also built a lot of soft power, and formed strategic alliances with many countries, which helped the country withstand pressures and find support. So the timing was crucial.”
He added that the blockade was imposed at a point where Qatar was ready to enter a new developmental phase – having first capitalized on and monetized its natural resources, and then focused on building infrastructure – and the need to respond prevented “procrastination” and the risk of “not taking a critical look at what needed to be done”.
Dr. Antoniades – who is also an economic advisor to public and private institutions – developed the blockade-focused research study with GU-Q senior student Rafia Al Jassim and Khalique Gharatkar, Associate Director of Strategy at Qatar Financial Center Authority. In his lecture, he described it as “the first in-depth examination of the impact of the blockade and the policy responses that followed”, saying: “We have found that the blockade focused delivery and has been the catalyst for a change in process.
“It has been a blessing in disguise not because it has made Qatar’s economy stronger, but because it has brought a change in how policies are developed and the quality and effectiveness of policies that are necessary to diversify the economy, which was a stage Qatar had to go through.”