Qatar's economy has been able to overcome various regional and global challenges through the implementation of a strong strategy to diversify sources of income and support the private sector to be an active partner in achieving sustainable development, HE the Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Thani has said.
The observation was made on Tuesday during the opening of the Qatar-Belgium Economic Forum, organised by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (MEC) in conjunction with the official visit of His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Belgium, in collaboration with Qatar Chamber (QC) and the Federation of Belgian Enterprises.
The forum was held with the aim of enhancing economic, trade and investment co-operation between the two sides and opening up prospects for communication between representatives of the Qatari and Belgian private sectors to establish investment projects that served the interests of the two countries, the official Qatar News Agency reported.
In the presence of His Highness the Emir and King Philippe of Belgium, HE Sheikh Ahmed and Kris Peeters, Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, inaugurated the forum on the sidelines of the official visit of the Emir.
The forum brought together Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim bin Mohamed al-Thani, chairman of QC, and Bernard Gilliot, president of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises, along with more than 200 businessmen, investors and government officials from both countries, according to a statement by the MEC.
The forum was also attended by chief executives of major Qatari companies in the fields of trade and industry, oil and gas, investment, food, contracting, medical equipment, health, medicines, automobiles, agriculture, engineering, building materials, e-commerce, along with other sectors, who discussed investment opportunities and potential joint ventures.
In his opening speech, the Minister highlighted friendly relations between the two countries that date back to the 1970s, especially in the economic and commercial fields, noting that bilateral trade grew to $1bn in 2017.
A discussion panel in progress.
He observed that 14 companies fully owned by Belgian citizens and 31 companies jointly owned by Qatari and Belgian nationals are currently operating in Qatar, praising the expectations and ambitions of both governments and the capacities of their economies, which should encourage further co-operation.
HE Sheikh Ahmed noted that the forum comes at a time of global economic uncertainties, regional challenges and the illegal blockade that has been imposed on Qatar since June 5, 2017.
He stressed that the blockade was aimed at undermining Qatar’s position as an economically independent and sovereign state but had failed, adding that Qatar emerged stronger and more economically independent than ever before. In fact, the illegal blockade presented an opportunity for Qatar to make its economy more accessible to the world, he added.
Further, he said Qatar has seized the opportunities that the illegal blockade has presented, noting that the country's economy continued its positive performance during the past year and into 2018 and has been largely unaffected by the blockade.
HE the Minister added that the Qatari economy has managed to overcome various regional and global challenges by implementing a strategy aimed at diversifying its revenue sources and positioning the private sector as an active partner.
He outlined Qatar’s characteristics as a leading investment destination, noting that the pragmatic policies adopted by the State and its wise leadership have stimulated all sectors of the economy to achieve increased productivity over the years.
HE Sheikh Ahmed highlighted that Qatar’s total GDP reached $220bn in 2017, compared to $218bn in 2016, while stressing that the blockade resulted in a renewed determination to deliver long-term economic stability among the Qatari people.
He added that annual real GDP at constant prices grew better than expected at 2% in 2017.
While Qatar's economic stability is built on its vast natural resources, HE the Minister said economic diversification has become a top priority for the government, which offers numerous opportunities to Belgian investors.
He said the share of the non-oil and gas sector in the nation’s GDP at constant prices was 52% last year while foreign trade increased by 16%, reaching $103bn compared to $89bn in 2016.
Qatar’s total exports went up by 19% to reach $68bn in 2017 from $57bn in 2016, he noted.
As a result, trade surplus increased by 40% in 2017, reaching $35bn compared to $25bn in 2016, which reflected positively on Qatar’s ranking on several international indicators, the Minister pointed out.
According to a latest report released by the World Bank, Qatar’s real GDP growth is expected to be 2.6% in 2018, HE Sheikh Ahmed said.
He highlighted Qatar’s economic stability despite the uncertainties weighing on global economies, noting that economic stability was bolstered thanks to the full support of Qatar’s government to foreign investment.
The Minister also highlighted Qatar's advanced ranking on the latest Global Competitiveness Index, noting that the country ranks first in providing a safe business environment, second in terms of the impact of tax on business, third in government procurement of advanced technology, fifth in venture capital availability and fifth in the availability of scientists and engineers.
He added that foreign companies looking to expand their business in Qatar can benefit from many investment incentives. In this context, HE Sheikh Ahmed said investors can take advantage of a tax-free environment, allowing for up to 10 years' income tax exemption for selected investment projects across different sectors, together with Customs tax and fee exemptions for equipment and raw material imports.
The Minister added that Qatar also allows foreign investors up to 100% ownership across various sectors in addition to allowing the repatriation of capital profits and the free transfer of company ownership.
He explained that investors can choose between operating their investment projects in free zones or directly accessing Qatar’s markets, noting that the state is currently developing two free zones that will help position Qatar as an ideal destination for foreign direct investment. He added that the state has established four new logistics zones that have contributed to reducing the cost of warehousing.
Touching on Qatar’s legislative environment, the Minister said the government is currently working on issuing a public-private partnership law that will coincide with the launch of a number of investment projects. He noted that a law regulating the investment of non-Qatari capital in economic activity was recently issued in line with the highest international standards.
The law significantly eases the procedures involved in registration of companies, he added.
The Minister also noted that investing in Qatar is now easier through the Invest in Qatar Centre, which aims to help investors establish their businesses.
HE Sheikh Ahmed then highlighted the state-of- the-art infrastructure provided to investors and Qatar’s position as a global geographical hub. In this context, he highlighted Hamad International Airport’s role as one of the biggest airports in the region, with a passenger capacity of more than 30mn per year and connecting Qatar to more than 150 destinations around the world through Qatar Airways, which has been selected as the world’s best airline.
The new Hamad port, which is located south of Doha, also reflects Qatar’s efforts to accelerate its economic expansion, he said, noting that the port was officially inaugurated in September 2017 and is one of the largest ports in the Middle East, accounting for 27% of regional trade.
HE added that Hamad Port, which can accommodate up to 7.5mn cargo containers annually, has contributed to the state’s success in launching new and direct trade routes by linking Qatar with many nations around the world as well as positioning the country as a transit point for trade across the Middle East.
In this context, he invited Belgian and other European businesses to enter the Qatari market, which is full of promising opportunities, noting that Qatar’s business environment is being transformed to help sustain the country’s impressive economic performance and encourage FDI in addition to the backing provided by a strong sovereign credit rating.
The Minister wrapped up his speech by reiterating that Qatar’s economy is open while inviting businesses and investors to contribute to the state’s efforts to achieve its economic objectives.
In a separate presentation, the participating Qatari delegation also shed light on logistic services, 2022 FIFA World Cup-related projects, the energy sector as well as challenges and opportunities for Qatari-Belgian co-operation.
The session was attended by Sheikh Meshal bin Jabor al-Thani, director of Energy Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Industry, Fahad Rashid al-Kaabi, CEO of Manateq Company, and Yousef al-Musleh, executive director at Supreme Committee for Delivery Legacy.
The forum also featured a discussion panel on potential joint ventures, investment opportunities in the tourism and transport sectors as well as the challenges. The event was attended by Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar al-Baker, Hassad Food CEO Mohamed al-Sada, Qatar Tourism Authority acting chairman Hassan al-Ibrahim, and Katara Hospitality chief corporate services officer Salem al-Kubaisi.
The forum also witnessed bilateral meetings between Qatari and Belgian businessmen who reviewed investment opportunities available in both countries and discussed long-term economic co-operation mechanisms between Qatari and Belgian companies.