In Stratfor's 2017 Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we said that the attempts to isolate Qatar from the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would weaken the fabric of the bloc. Qatar is now moving forward with its case against the United Arab Emirates in the World Trade Organization (WTO). But the decision is unlikely to resolve the dispute quickly or improve the United Arab Emirates' international reputation.
Qatar has decided that calling in the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the best way to push back against its neighbors. On July 31, Qatar brought a case against the United Arab Emirates in response to measures that the country — along with Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — recently put in place against the small nation. On Oct. 12, the WTO released a document showing that Qatar had requested a dispute panel for its case. But the issues between Qatar and the other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) haven't faded, and this latest move is not likely to bring a particularly fast resolution.
It is strategically advantageous for Qatar to target the United Arab Emirates with its court case, given the majority of cargo traveling to or from Qatar passes through the Port of Jebel Ali in Dubai. In its dispute panel request, Qatar accused the United Arab Emirates of hindering the sale of Qatari goods and services and listed 13 specific UAE measures that restrict Qatari trade and run afoul of WTO regulations.
With its request, Doha is also able to target Abu Dhabi's trade advantages in the region. The United Arab Emirates is known as one of the most trade-, investment- and business-friendly hubs in the Middle East (and the world). And if the country's actions against Qatar are looked at in isolation, it is likely that some of them will violate commitments to the WTO. The UAE government has said that the current issue with Qatar is one of national security, and Bahrain has already said it will support that claim. But the court case could still damage the United Arab Emirates' reputation as an open and friendly hub for finance and trade — or open the door for other countries to use the same argument against it in future.
Qatar is hoping that the WTO process will allow it maintain some level of high ground in the dispute with its fellow bloc members. And in the coming months, several events will test the success of that strategy. The annual GCC summit is scheduled for December in Kuwait, and the Gulf Cup of Nations is scheduled for the same month in Qatar. It's not clear how the various GCC countries will approach the events or if they will attend at all, and a delay or boycott of either event would serve to highlight the severity of the group's conflict.
No matter what, the GCC crisis will continue to evolve slowly. The rules of the WTO require Qatar to seek consultations with the United Arab Emirates before requesting a dispute panel, but the UAE government reportedly turned down that option Aug. 10, meaning the WTO could reject Qatar's request. Qatar can still issue a second request, which the WTO could only turn down if all members of the WTO (including Qatar) vote to do so. Regardless, WTO cases often take well over a year to work through the system.