Ranked consistently as one of the three fastest-growing economies in the world since 2008, Qatar is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom that is changing the face of the country. Under the leadership of Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the government has made great progress towards accomplishing the goals of its National Vision 2030, which are to ensure sustainable, equitable and rapid economic growth, while developing the country’s human capital, enhancing competitiveness and protecting the environment.
In a speech to the International Symposium held in Doha in June 2012, Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani emphasised the important role of the Qatari leadership in transforming the country into one of the most competitive and diversified economies in the world.
Qatar, he said, has earned “worldwide admiration and praise from international economic and development circles for its outstanding success in achieving a qualitative economic, social and cultural transformation in less than two decades, a feat which took several decades to achieve in other countries.”
Indeed, in less than two decades the Persian Gulf nation of less than two million has become the second wealthiest country in the world measured by GDP per capita. The country’s double-digit GDP growth in recent years has been accompanied by good governance and competitiveness. Proof of that is the fact that the World Economic Forum ranks Qatar as the most competitive country in the Middle East and the 14th most competitive in the world; the World Bank ranks it as the third country in the Middle East and 36th worldwide for ease of doing business; and Transparency International as the 22nd most transparent country in the world, higher than many OECD countries.
The oil and gas sector remains the stronghold of the economy and an important contributor to the state budget, which is not surprising seeing how Qatar has significant oil reserves of 25.4 billion barrels, according to the Oil and Gas Journal. The country is also home to the third largest reserves of natural gas in the world and is the number one exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) worldwide. The sector has grown exponentially in the last decade as a result of the government’s efforts to develop the infrastructure needed to export LNG to far-away places like Japan and Belgium, and to increase the added value of energy exports by promoting downstream sectors, particularly the production of petrochemical products.
But energy only tells part of the story, as the contribution of the fast-growing services sector to the economy is expected to reach 40 percent by 2015. This trend illustrates the government’s ambition to turn Qatar into a knowledge and finance hub in the Middle East and a centre for Islamic culture. Since 2003, when the country’s Education City was founded, prestigious international universities like Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown University and University College London (UCL) have opened up branches in Qatar. These programmes are held to the same standards as their counterparts in Western Europe and North America, but are also in line with Qatar’s developmental needs and strategic interests. Meanwhile, the Science and Technology Park, located across from Education City in Doha, hosts R&D operations of some of the largest multinationals in the world, including ExxonMobil, Maersk Oil, Total, Shell, Microsoft, CISCO, Siemens, Virgin’s stem cells research centre and Rolls Royce.
But perhaps the most important growth catalyst in the coming years will be Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament, for which the government has delegated to the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee the responsibility of supervising preparations. The committee has a budget of over $100 billion to be spent over the next ten years on infrastructure, and has already started works on futuristic-looking stadiums that encapsulate the spirit of the new Qatar: innovative, dynamic and globally-engaged.