Qatar among invitees to GCC summit in Kuwait

Gulf Cup deadline pushed back

Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani receives Kuwaiti Ambassador to Qatar Hafeeth Al-Ajami.

DOHA, Nov 30, (Agencies): Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani on Thursday received an invitation from His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al- Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to attend the upcoming Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit, to be held early next month in Kuwait City.

The invitation for the event, scheduled for Dec 5 and 6, was delivered by Kuwaiti Ambassador to Qatar Hafeeth Al-Ajami.

Meanwhile, a Nov 30 deadline to announce if the Qatar-hosted Gulf Cup will take place amid an ongoing regional political crisis has been pushed back, an official said Thursday. The final decision will now be made early next week following a meeting on Dec 4 — just 18 days before the tournament is scheduled to start — Jassim al-Rumaihi, Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF) general secretary, told AFP.

“We wait until Monday for a final decision on this matter,” Rumaihi said. Despite the desperate attempts of AGCFF officials, it looks increasingly likely that the competition will become the first high-profile sporting victim of the political uncertainties surrounding Qatar and its neighbours. Major doubts have hung over the Gulf Cup because of a bitter dispute involving Qatar and its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain.

The crisis erupted on June 5 when Qatar was politically and economically isolated by a quartet of neighbouring countries over its alleged support for terrorist groups and warming relations with Saudi Arabia’s great regional rival, Shiite-dominated Iran. The 2022 World Cup host denies the allegations. Monday’s expected final decision will come almost six months to the day that the destabilising row began. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were ‘withdrawn’ from the eight-team tournament after failing to respond to a written invitation to take part. Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the region which has qualified for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia. The slim chance that the Gulf Cup will go ahead rests with Kuwait. Although Kuwait is not part of the political dispute — it has acted as a regional mediator since the crisis began back in June — its football association has its own separate problems and remains suspended by FIFA, which means it is unclear if its team is eligible to play in the tournament.

The AGCFF, based in Doha, have said they would go ahead with a fiveteam tournament. If the Gulf Cup begins on Dec 22 it will be played between Qatar, Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Yemen. Qatar are the current holders. Usually played every two years, the Gulf Cup was originally meant to be hosted by Kuwait in 2016 but was moved to Qatar because of the FIFA ban. Any cancellation of the Gulf Cup could cause embarrassment to Qatar, as it continues its $500 million-a-week preparations for 2022, and serve as a warning to the political uncertainties surrounding its World Cup. In other news, deep in the Qatari desert, a herd of cows stands in a vast shed, cooled by fans and jets of mist — each animal a key player in a plan to defy a trade boycott and make the kingdom self-sufficient in milk by next year.

The black and white Holstein cattle are among the first members of a 14,000-strong herd that farming company Baladna is expecting to build up in coming months, its chief executive John Dore told Reuters in an interview. “We will make Qatar self-sufficient by June — that is the target,” Dore said. He conceded that raising and milking cows in temperatures nearing 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) in summer posed special challenges.

But technology and the deep pockets of Baladna’s Qatari owners were compensating for the harsh environment, said Dore, an Irishman who previously worked for Saudi Arabian dairy giant Almarai. Hundreds of cows were already hooked up to the automatic milking machines at Baladna’s farm in Umm al Hawaya, about 50 kms (30 miles) north of Doha, and producing milk good enough to export, he said. More than 6,000 more cows from the United States are due to arrive by February.

Qatar’s drive to build a dairy industry in the desert illustrates how the tiny but wealthy country, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, is using money and technology to cope with its isolation. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut trade and transport ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing terrorism, a charge which Doha denies.

The boycott disrupted Qatar’s shipping routes through the Gulf. It also shut Qatar’s land border with Saudi Arabia, across which many perishable goods were imported, including almost 400 tonnes of fresh milk and yoghurt a day. The boycott has forced Qatar to fly in dairy products from Turkey and Iran. But Dore said the country was determined to create its own dairy sector, largely relying on Baladna, a private company which is receiving logistical and other support from the government.

The firm, which raises sheep, was considering moving into milk production before the boycott, but knew it would find it hard to compete on price with imports from Almarai, he said. The boycott removed that competition and in the initial weeks of the diplomatic crisis, the company flew in the first 3,400 cows on state-owned airline Qatar Airways. “We were milking cows here on the 11th of July, which is barely a month after the blockade, and that by any method or means is some achievement,” Dore said.

Baladna is planning two more sea shipments from the United States — each holding 3,300 animals — by February. Another consignment of 3,000 cows has been planned, but not yet ordered. By June, it says it is expecting to raise production of fresh milk and yoghurt to 500 tonnes a day, enough to meet domestic demand with 100 tonnes left over for export. Baladna has not disclosed financial details of its project, and it is not yet clear whether Qatar can produce large volumes of milk economically, let alone export some at competitive prices. But for now at least, the country’s drive to reduce its dependence on imports with domestic production appears to be stimulating the economy. The manufacturing sector grew 3.2 percent from a year earlier in September, official data released last week showed. Food manufacturing jumped 23.5 percent.

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