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Boosting British business in Qatar

Article - November 24, 2014

In a little over fifteen years, Qatar has transformed itself from a relatively unknown Gulf State to a prominent player on the world’s stage. It has now embarked on one of the largest and most expansive infrastructure programmes in the world with projected spending of more than US$220bn over the next decade.


The catalyst for this transformation is the Qatar National Vision 2030. The country, through four pillars of economic, social, human and environmental development, aims to be an advanced society capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for everyone. I believe that Qatar is firmly on the right track in realising its vision and is clearly developing the four pillars.

Qatar has already established Education City housing campuses from some of the world’s leading universities including University College London. Qatar is also looking to place itself firmly on the cultural map with the Museum of Islamic Art and the construction of the impressive Qatar National Museum. The FIFA World Cup in 2022 is also a driver for this transformation, including the development of Qatar’s first underground and light rail systems, an inter-Gulf rail network, major road construction and the provision of thousands of extra hotel rooms, not to mention eight FIFA compliant stadia and the seventy associated training grounds and facilities.

Qatar’s Business Environment

Qatar has one of the world’s fastest growing economies with an average GDP growth of 13.2% from 2003-13, and was the world’s fastest, from 2008-12.  It also had the highest GDP per capita of US$106,000 in 2013.  IMF forecasts a 6% GDP growth for Qatar in 2014.

Qatar is the UK’s third largest export market in the Middle East and North Africa region.  In 2013, UK export of goods to Qatar increased 16% to £1.53bn. (UK exports of services were an additional £521m in 2012 - latest figures available).  UK exports to Qatar are up 37% in the first seven months of 2014, compared with the same period last year. This growth is in step with the increasing demand for UK goods generally, which has seen exports rise four-fold from £353m in 2005 to present day levels.

This rapid pace of change and development means that many countries are interested in Qatar and British companies are not alone in wanting to be partners in its exciting future.  Many British companies are already operating successfully in Qatar from the large multi-nationals such as Shell, Vodafone and HSBC as well as SMEs who provide niche products and services.  There is something for everyone.

Many UK businesses setting up here need to have a local sponsor/business partner with a 51/49% split in favour of the Qatari partner. Companies wishing to do business here need to take the time to develop long-lasting personal relationships. Email is not the best form of communication; the best way is to meet in person. If you are prepared to invest the time, the rewards will be worth it. Qataris are proud of their culture and heritage and a little knowledge about their country and its history go a long way. Above all, family and hospitality is everything in the Arab world.

The Qatari Government has been working to reduce relatively high levels of bureaucracy. Some local contracts are viewed as onerous given that the burden of risk tends to lie with the foreign company. Disputes do sometimes occur and this carries risks for foreign companies. However attitudes are changing, although UK companies wishing to do business in Qatar should seek advice and ways of mitigating the risks involved. In February 2014, the Cabinet approved a draft law exempting non-Qatari investors from paying tax on their share of profits in joint stock companies. Enactment of the law will exempt non-Qataris investors from paying taxes resulting from the trading of all securities and investment funds.

UKTI in Qatar

The UKTI team in the British Embassy in Doha has almost doubled in size in the last two years to meet the demands of the increasing popularity of Qatar as a source of business for British companies.  

The UKTI team can assist UK companies already doing business in Qatar or looking to do business here in a number of ways.  We can arrange meetings with local companies/contacts or provide validated contacts, arrange and facilitate trade mission visits, host networking receptions, lobby for British companies at political and business levels, provide up-to-date market information and advice and much more. I actively encourage British exporters to get in touch with the UKTI team here in Doha or in the UK.  Talk to us early on to explore the opportunities and the risks; we are here to help.  For more information please visit contact the UKTI team by email on: ukti.doha@fco.gov.uk

Many British companies in a variety of sectors are already doing well in Qatar, particularly in infrastructure (including architectural firms, design, engineering consultancy and fit-out companies) and in the oil and gas industry. The UK is also very well represented in the financial and professional services industry with many leading British legal firms, banks and accountancy companies well established here. UK automotive, luxury goods, retail and food and beverages are all well represented in Qatar.  But, there is always room for more and the appetite for more business in this rapidly expanding country is seemingly endless.  It’s a good time to do business in Qatar.

Qatar and the United Kingdom

Bilateral relations between Qatar and United Kingdom are historically strong and continue to go from strength-to-strength.  We are keen to continue to highlight British expertise, innovation and competitiveness across a wide range of traditional sectors and in less well established sectors such as research, cyber security and science and technology.  We also wish to continue to promote stronger health and education links.

As part of the British Government’s commitment to strengthen economic and commercial relationships with Qatar, UKTI is establishing a British Chamber of Commerce in Doha. This new institution will seek to support business ties in both directions and will in particular look to develop greater SME business between Britain and Qatar. Amongst the areas that a new Chamber will prioritise are improved private sector exchanges; greater promotion of business opportunities; stronger linkages between the Chamber of Commerce networks across Britain and Qatar; and specific support to encourage SME businesses to participate more fully in international trade. Improving the number of SME businesses that export and trade is viewed as the single most important contribution to growing trade between our two nations and underpinning prosperity and economic stability for the future.

The British Chamber will also be able to draw upon enhanced support from the British Chamber of Commerce organisation and its extensive network of Chambers of Commerce across the UK. It will in due course become fully accredited as a recognised and certified Chamber of Commerce and will join the growing network of British Chambers of Commerce overseas. Establishing a new British Chamber of Commerce adds yet further evidence of the determination of the UK government to invest materially in its economic relationship with Qatar.

As Qatar rapidly progresses I hope to see increased British presence in the country with our companies doing well across all sectors.  We have a lot to offer and I believe that we can support Qatar in achieving its goals.

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