ALSO READArab states' sanctions boost food prices, hurt real estate in Qatar in July Isolating Qatar: What is at stake? Diplomatic rift may cost billions of dollars to Qatar, its Gulf neighbours Gulf states say 'pro-Qatar' speech now constitutes cybercrime Talks with Qatar hinge on change in policies: Saudi Arabia
Qatar's imports recovered only slightly in July after plunging in June, government data released on Thursday showed, suggesting the country's economy is still suffering from sanctions imposed by other Gulf states.
The closure of the Saudi border with Qatar and disruption to shipping routes via the UAE slashed Qatar's imports by 37.9 per cent in June compared with May, forcing Doha to scramble to arrange new shipping routes and import some goods by air.
Thursday's figures showed Qatar is still far from restoring its imports to normal. Imports recovered by only 6.3 per cent month-on-month to 6.24 billion riyals ($1.71 billion) in July; they were 35 per cent below their level in July 2016.
Much of the disruption appears to be to big-ticket items. Imports of aircraft parts were down 40.5 per cent from a year ago at 292 million riyals in July. The diplomatic crisis has deprived Qatar Airways of two of its biggest markets, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Incoming shipments of equipment and building materials for Qatar's big infrastructure projects may also have slowed in some cases. Imports of gas turbines dropped 19.8 per cent from a year ago to 328 million riyals.
Many dairy products and other perishable foods used to be imported across the Saudi border. Although there are no reports of food shortages in Qatar, disruption to imports appears to be pushing up food and drink prices, which rose 4.2 per cent in July from June, data released last week showed.
Thursday's trade figures suggested the sanctions are not affecting Qatar's natural gas exports — July exports of petroleum gases and other gaseous hydrocarbons rose 7.8 per cent from a year ago — and are no longer slowing other exports much.
As a result, Qatar's trade surplus expanded 78.1 per cent from a year earlier to 11.91 billion riyals in July, although it edged down 4.8 per cent from the previous month.
Analysts think the sanctions damage should ease in coming months as new shipping routes develop. Qatar Navigation launched a direct Qatar-Turkey service this week after starting a container service to Kuwait last week; construction of a food processing and storage facility at Qatar's Hamad Port received $440 million of bank financing this week.
A Reuters poll of analysts published last month found them still expecting the Qatari economy to be one of the region's strongest performers in 2017 and 2018.