Qatar petchem trades face disruption amid diplomatic crisis

07 June 2017 11:06 Source:ICIS News

SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Qatar’s petrochemical trades are facing disruption following a worsening of the diplomatic rift between the country and other Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, industry sources said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE – members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to which Qatar belongs – and Egypt decided on 5 June to cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, which they deem to be supporting terrorism that causes instability in the Arab world.

Qatar is the biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, and also ships out much of its crude oil and petroleum products, as well as basic chemicals, polyethylene (PE) and methanol.

Air and sea travel to and from Qatar have been suspended by the four Arab nations, from which Qatari citizens were given two weeks to leave.

“These measures are unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions,” Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs  said in a statement posted on its website.

Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani on Tuesday said that the country is open to mediation to resolve the crisis.

Closure of ports to Qatari-flagged vessels could weigh on shipments of LNG and petrochemicals, according to industry sources.

Dubai-based port operator DP World announced late on Tuesday a ban on all Qatar vehicles and cargoes at UAE ports with immediate effect, while shipping agents at Saudi Arabian sea ports have been instructed not to receive or unload cargo from any Qatari vessels.

All marine navigation along Bahrain territorial waters were also closed to ships from Qatar as of 6 June.

In 2016, Qatar’s polymer exports stood at about 1.96m tonnes, accounting for about 9% of GCC’s 21.8m tonnes of the products, according to data from the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA).

Asia is GCC’s main export market for polymers, absorbing 60% of the total volumes shipped last year, the data showed.

PE market players in southeast Asia have raised concerns about the timely arrival of supplies from Qatar amid the unexpected turn of events in the diplomatic row within the GCC.

In northeast Asia, linear alkylbenzene (LAB) importers are worried about the long-term impact of the blockade on Qatar shipments. The Middle Eastern country is a producer and exporter of LAB and feedstock normal paraffin.

Qatar’s economic outlook is being weighed down by the recent “political noise”, according to Spain-based FocusEconomics in its latest Consensus Forecast report.

The research firm lowered its 2017 GDP growth forecast for the country to 3.1% from its previous projection of 3.3% in May.

But the 2017 forecast still represents a strong acceleration from last year’s 2.2%, on the back of higher oil and gas prices and sustained infrastructure capital spending, it said.

The Qatari economy grew at its slowest pace in two decades in 2016 as spill-over effects of low oil prices and tighter banking liquidity took a toll on non-oil sector’s performance, according to FocusEconomics.

Ratings firm Moody's late last month downgraded Qatar's credit rating amid increasing external debt and uncertainty over the sustainability of the country's growth model over the next few years. It is projecting Qatar to post an annual average GDP growth of around 2.5% between 2017 and 2021.

Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman

Additional reporting by Fadhil Muhamad, Izham Ahmad and Felita Widjaja

Picture: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have suspended flights to Qatar. (Siegfried Grassegger/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock)

By Nurluqman Suratman