Japanese firms watching warily as Qatar crisis unfolds

Japanese companies have grown wary about possible adverse effects from the Saudi-Qatar crisis on their businesses.

Some companies have started considering how to cope with the heightened tensions between the Saudi Arabian camp and Qatar, both major energy exporters to Japan, people familiar with the matter have said.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, announced they would sever their diplomatic ties with Qatar, blaming Doha for supporting terrorism. As of Saturday, a total of nine Middle Eastern and African countries had cut their relations with Qatar.

As Japan imports 9 percent of its crude oil and 13 percent of its liquefied natural gas from Qatar, a number of Japanese firms, many of which are related to resources businesses, are active in the country. According to Foreign Ministry data, 46 Japanese businesses had foothold operations there as of October 2015.

“We were stunned (by the abrupt severance of ties with Qatar),” said a person involved in Japan’s trade policy management.

Although most trading firms see “no immediate impact,” concerns over the long-term effects are spreading, industry officials said.

Marubeni Corp., which has been importing LNG from the Persian Gulf nation and selling it to electricity and other companies since 1996, is worried about the possibility of its officials having difficulty shuttling between Tokyo and the UAE capital of Dubai, where the major Japanese trading house has its Mideast business headquarters.

“At this point we can do nothing but gather information,” said a Marubeni public relations official. “Qatar is an important country for us,” the official added.

“If (the Saudi-Qatar crisis) prolongs, some influences may be seen in spot LNG prices, among others,” said Toshihiro Sano, president of Tepco Fuel & Power Inc., a unit of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. that has been purchasing a huge volume of LNG through a joint firm with Chubu Electric Power Co.

Sano emphasized the importance of diversifying procurement sources.

An official with Obayashi Corp. said that company is closely watching the situation in Qatar, where the general contractor is constructing a hotel-commercial complex.

Many other companies in the construction industry are also keeping a close eye on the Qatar issue amid a number of ongoing infrastructure projects in the country, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, people familiar with the matter said.

“It already has become difficult to travel to Qatar, to some extent,” said Daisuke Yonekura, acting chief of the Japan External Trade Organization’s Middle East and Africa division.

“Unless the crisis ends early, Japanese companies active in Qatar would find it impossible to send necessary materials to their local footholds,” he warned.

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