Bahrain, Qatar seek closer economic ties

Published April 12th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Buoyed by the successful resolution of a land dispute between their two countries, the business communities of Bahrain and Qatar appear intent on quickly to patching up bilateral trade relations. Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Mohammad Al-Thani, the chairman of Qatar’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has just wrapped up a three-day visit with a Qatari delegation, during which he signed a “protocol of collaboration” with the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). 


Signing the protocol for the Bahraini side was Ali Bin Yussif Fakhro, the BCCI chairman. But to underscore the importance that the Bahraini government was giving to the occasion, the signing ceremony took place in the presence of Bahrain’s minister of commerce, Ali Salah Al-Salah.  


During their visit to Bahrain, the Qatari’s met with Al-Salah, Abdullah Hassan Saif, the minister of finance and national economy, Shaikh Issa bin Ali Al-Khalifa, the minister of oil and industry, and Shaikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, the governor of the Bahrain Monetary Agency.  


On March 16, the International Court in Hague issued a ruling in a long-standing land dispute between Bahrain and Qatar, awarding Bahrain with the largest of a string of disputed islands in the waters of the Gulf, while giving Qatar a set of smaller islands. 


In so doing, the court essentially recognized Bahrain’s sovereignty over the Hawar Islands and Qitat Jarada Island, while the energy-rich Zubara Strip, Fasht Dibel Rocks and Janan Island were accorded to Qatar. Announcing the verdict of the 17-judge panel, Presiding Judge Gilbert Guillaume explained that the court was upholding a 1939 ruling by Britain, which then, in its capacity as the colonial power in the region, had given Hawar to Bahrain. 


For more than three decades, the Hawar dispute cast a heavy pall over relations between Qatar and Bahrain, reaching a crisis point in 1986, when Qatari soldiers seized 29 workers sent by Bahrain to build a coast guard station on a contested strip of beach. 


But now, following the court decision, which was hailed as a victory by both Qatar and Bahrain, they both seem intent on building a close working relationship. This week, a joint Qatari-Bahraini higher committee is convening in Doha, following the visit to Qatar by the emir of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad Al-Khalifa. The committee was scheduled to discuss establishing a bridge linking the two Gulf states and setting a joint council to promote investment. 


Several days earlier, Bahrain’s telecommunications company (Batelco) announced the introduction of a new Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) link with Qatar. Until now, only the United Arab Emirates had a similar link with Bahrain.  


The protocol of collaboration, concluded by the two national chambers of commerce, sets a meeting at least twice a year to discuss all bilateral developments and proposals. Among them is likely to be a Qatari proposal to co-operate with Bahrain in downstream activities of oil and gas. The chambers of commerce have also discussed establishing financial institutions that will trade between the two countries, and there also is a plan to establish a chain of Qatari restaurants in Bahrain. 


Since the announcement of the court decision in the Hague, there already have been a number of concrete economic developments. One is an agreement, worth 10 million Qatari riyals ($2.75 million), between Al-Hawaj of Bahrain and Blue Salon, a Qatar-based company. Together, they will set up an extensive retail operation in both countries. 


Both Qatar and Bahrain enjoy stable economies. Oil and gas-rich Qatar has a nominal economic growth rate projected to reach 20 percent this year, following an 18.9 percent expansion in 1999. In addition, this year’s exports are expected to rise by more than 25 percent, while the current account surplus will surge by 31 percent.  


Bahrain’s economy is projected to grow by four percent this year, more than double its population growth rate of 1.78 percent. Bahrain’s state coffers will likely receive a boost from this year’s oil income, which is predicted to reach 365 million Bahraini dinars ($968 million)—up 43 percent on oil income in the 2000 budget. Petroleum products account for 61 percent of the country’s $3.3 billion in annual exports. — (Albawaba-MEBG)

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