March 14, 2018 / 3:30 PM / 9 months ago

Facing boycott, Qatar focuses on self-reliance in five-year plan

DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar launched a five-year development plan on Wednesday that focuses on making the tiny country more self-reliant in the face of a boycott by other Arab states.

FILE PHOTO: Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The National Development Strategy for 2018-2022 pledges to “rationalise energy consumption and encourage development of renewable energy while raising self-sufficiency levels for farming and fishing production”.

The 333-page plan, released by Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, aims for Qatar to satisfy 30 percent of its demand for farm animals and 65 percent of its demand for fish domestically by 2022, partly through fish farms.

The document does not give figures for Qatar’s current level of self-sufficiency in these areas, but the desert country of 2.7 million is heavily dependent on food imports. Only 6 percent of its land is arable, the document says.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of backing terrorism, a charge which Doha denies.

The boycott disrupted Qatar’s imports, many of which used to come across its border with Saudi Arabia, and triggered the withdrawal of billions of dollars from Qatari banks by depositors from the four states.

Qatar’s economy and financial markets were hurt as imports plunged about 40 percent from a year earlier in the first weeks of the boycott. But the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas developed new trade routes and deployed tens of billions of dollars from its sovereign wealth fund, estimated to have about $320 billion of assets, to protect its banks.

Gross domestic product data for the third quarter of 2017 showed the economy had largely recovered from the boycott and was again growing robustly. [nL8N1OT2RF]

Efforts to make Qatar more self-sufficient began within weeks of the boycott starting, as a privately owned local company with government support, Baladna, flew in 3,400 cows on state airline Qatar Airways. It plans to build a herd of 14,000, housing them in sheds cooled by fans and jets of mist. [nL8N1NZ0TO]

There have been few signs of any resolution to the diplomatic dispute, and a senior UAE official has said Qatar’s isolation could last years. In January, Qatar filed a complaint to the United Nations about an alleged violation of its airspace by a UAE military aircraft; the UAE denied any violation.

Other parts of the five-year development plan deal with social conditions, such as encouraging Qatari citizens to play sport and improving the health of young people.

Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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