Thursday , December 14 2017

Contingency air routes may open to Qatar – Doha in push for international corridors

MONTREAL, Aug 1, (Agencies): Qatar Airways is expected to have access to three contingency routes over international waters in early August, after a UN-led meeting on Monday discussed air corridors for Doha following a rift with its neighbors, a source familiar with the matter said.

The closed-door meeting with the UN aviation agency’s governing council in Montreal, discussed contingency routes that had been planned as part of a preliminary agreement reached earlier this month, but not yet opened to Qatar-registered planes.

Qatar had asked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to intervene after its national carrier was denied access to the airspace of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as part of economic sanctions.

The four countries severed ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism, something Doha denies. The closing of their airspace has forced state-owned Qatar Airways to fly longer, more expensive routes, prompting Doha to push for international corridors over Gulf waters currently managed by the United Arab Emirates.

“Within a week or so they should have new routes,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

A spokesman from ICAO could not comment on the Monday talks.

Delegations from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Canada could not be reached for comment on Monday.

On Sunday, Saudi state news agency SPA cited a statement from the Saudi aviation authority (GACA) saying they had already agreed to nine emergency air corridors, which were identified under ICAO supervision, and would be open from Aug 1.

However, Qatar’s transport and communications ministry and its aviation authority denied the four countries had taken such a decision, the state news agency QNA said.

In comments to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, Qatar’s transport and information minister said the boycotting countries had discriminated against Doha in violation of an international agreement guaranteeing overflights.

“These countries have used this right arbitrarily and imposed it on aircraft registered only in the State of Qatar,” Jassim bin Saif al-Sulaiti said.

ICAO cannot impose rules on states, but regulators from its 191-member countries almost always adopt and enforce the standards it sets for international aviation.

Qatar files WTO complaint

Qatar has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over an “illegal siege” imposed by its Gulf neighbours, the commerce ministry said Monday.

The gas-rich emirate has been slapped with sanctions and demands after four countries including regional kingpin Saudi Arabia cut ties with it on June 5, accusing Doha of fostering Islamist groups and of links to Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran. Qatar denies the allegations.

The Ministry of Economy and Commerce said a complaint had been lodged with the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body against the “siege countries”.

The Saudi-led bloc has demanded the termination of regional news giant Al-Jazeera, the downgrading of Iran ties and the closure of a Turkish military base in the country.

The countries have also recalled their ambassadors from Doha, ordered all Qataris to return home and banned Qatar from using their airspace.

“The complaint accuses the siege countries of violating the WTO’s core laws and conventions on trade of goods and services, and trade-related aspects of intellectual property,” the Qatar ministry said.

“The arbitrary measures taken by the siege countries are a clear violation of the provisions and conventions of international trade law.

“Furthermore, the illegal siege is unprecedented in the framework of economic blocs,” Qatar’s economic and commerce minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassem bin Mohammed Al-Thani said in the statement.

The diplomatic crisis between Doha and its neighbours is the biggest to have hit the Gulf Cooperation Council in decades.

The boycotting countries have previously told the WTO that they would cite national security to justify their actions against Qatar, using a controversial and almost unprecedented exemption allowed under the WTO rules.

They said on Sunday they were ready for talks to tackle the dispute, the worst rift between Gulf Arab states in years, if Doha showed willingness to deal with their demands.

The text of Qatar’s WTO complaint cites “coercive attempts at economic isolation” and spells out how they are impeding Qatar’s rights in the trade in goods, trade in services and intellectual property.

The complaints against Saudi Arabia and the UAE run to eight pages each, while the document on Bahrain is six pages.

There was no immediate reaction from the three to Qatar’s complaint, which is likely to be circulated at the WTO later this week.

The disputed trade restrictions include bans on trade through Qatar’s ports and travel by Qatari citizens, blockages of Qatari digital services and websites, closure of maritime borders and prohibition of flights operated by Qatari aircraft.

The complaint does not put a value on the trade boycott, and al-Thani declined to estimate how much Qatar could seek in sanctions if the litigation ever reached that stage, which can take 2-5 years or longer in the WTO system.

“We remain hopeful that the consultations could bear fruit in resolving this,” he said.

The WTO suit does not include Egypt, the fourth country involved in the boycott. Although it has also cut travel and diplomatic ties with Qatar, Egypt did not expel Qatari citizens or ask Egyptians to leave Qatar.

Al-Thani declined to explain why Egypt was not included.

“Obviously all options are available. But we have not raised a consultation request with Egypt yet,” he said.

In its WTO case, Qatar would also draw attention to the impact the boycott was having on other WTO members, he added.

Many trade diplomats say that using national security as a defence risks weakening the WTO by removing a taboo that could enable countries to escape international trade obligations.

Al-Thani said governments had wide discretion to invoke the national security defence but it had to be subject to oversight.

“If it is self-regulating, that is a danger to the entire multilateral trading system itself. And we believe the WTO will take that into consideration.”

Qatar also raised the boycott at a meeting of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Monday, al-Thani said.

In comments to Qatar-based Al Jazeera television later on Monday, Qatar’s transport and information minister said the boycotting countries had discriminated against Doha in violation of an international agreement guaranteeing overflights.

“These countries have used this right arbitrarily and imposed it on aircraft registered only in the State of Qatar,” Jassim bin Saif al-Sulaiti said.

Qatar in June asked Montreal-based ICAO to resolve the conflict, using a dispute resolution mechanism in the Chicago Convention, a 1944 treaty that created the agency and set basic rules for international aviation.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain said on Sunday they would allow Qatari planes to use air corridors in emergencies.

Joint drill launched

Turkey and its main regional ally Qatar on Tuesday launched military exercises in the emirate that will involve some 250 Turkish troops and 30 armoured vehicles, reports said.

The exercises come as Ankara presses on with its unequivocal backing of Doha in the crisis triggered by the political and economic isolation of Qatar by Gulf and other Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Turkish state media said that the Turkish frigate TCG Gokova had docked in Doha earlier this week carrying 214 soldiers who would take part in the exercises.

The exercises got underway on Tuesday and would initially involve ground forces with naval forces later on, NTV television said. An observation day involving top commanders would take place on Aug 7-8, it added.

A total of 250 Turkish soldiers and 30 armoured vehicles will take part, it added.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shiite rival Iran.

Doha denies the claims and has been strongly backed by Ankara throughout the standoff.

The crisis has put Turkey in a delicate position as it seeks to balance its strategic alliance with Qatar with preserving its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia.

Turkey is setting up a military base in Qatar, its only such outpost in the region. It has sped up the process since the crisis began and reportedly now has 150 troops at the base.

After a whistlestop tour of the region last month that included visits to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said more time was needed to solve the crisis.

 

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