Abu Dhabi Quietly Eases Curb on Qatar After 20-Month Embargo

Tugboats help guide a Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) ship loaded with freight containers in this aerial photograph approaching the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release trade balance figures on Feb. 8. Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

An obscure port circular may signal an easing of the almost two-year Saudi-led embargo of Qatar.

Abu Dhabi will now allow cargo to be shipped from the emirate to Qatar after banning trade in June 2017. The ports authority issued a circular on Feb. 12 that removed any mention of cargo shipments, canceling the previous order that barred goods originating from either Qatar or the United Arab Emirates from being loaded or delivered.

Qatari-flagged and owned vessels are still prohibited from docking in Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E.’s capital. Vessels from the U.A.E. “aren’t allowed to call on Qatari ports,” according to the Abu Dhabi Ports statement.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in 2017, accusing the gas-rich country of maintaining close ties with Iran and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies both charges. The U.S. has increased pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the rift and unite the region against Iran.

Spokesmen for the governments of Qatar and Abu Dhabi, and officials at other U.A.E. ports weren’t immediately available for comment.

Qatar, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, absorbed the shock of the embargo. The boycott forced the country to shift its shipping routes to Kuwait and Oman, and buy more goods from Iran and Turkey. Yet Qatar’s economy is expanding faster than those of most of its neighbors, and its stock market was the world’s second-best performer last year.

After shoring up ties in Western capitals and spending billions on weapons, Qatar plans to retool its economy to attract foreign investment and build a financial hub for companies in Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan. It banned the import of goods from the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia in May.