07 Mar 2018 – 8:36

The Peninsula

Brussels: The Qatari 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, said Minister of Economy and Commerce H E Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani.

This came during the opening of the Belgian-Qatari Business Forum organised by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce in conjunction with the official visit of Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the Kingdom of Belgium, in collaboration with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and the Belgian Association of Companies.

qatar airways

The forum was aimed at enhancing economic, trade and investment cooperation between the two sides and opening up prospects for communication between representatives of the Qatari and Belgian private sector to establish investment projects that serve the interests of the two countries.

In the presence of Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and His Majesty King Philippe of Belgium, Minister of Economy and Commerce, H E Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani and his Belgian counterpart Kris Peeters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, inaugurated yesterday, the Qatar—Belgium Economic Forum.

The Forum was organised by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, in cooperation with Qatar Chamber and the Federation of Belgian Enterprises, on the sidelines of the official visit of H H the Emir to Belgium.

The Forum brought together Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim Bin Mohammed Al Thani, Chairman of Qatar Chamber and  Bernard Gilliot, president of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises, along with more than 200 businessmen, investors and government officials from both countries.

In his opening speech, Qatar’s Minister of Economy and Commerce highlighted friendly Qatari-Belgian relations that date back to the 1970’s, especially in the economic and commercial fields, noting that bilateral trade grew to $1bn in 2017.

He said that 14 companies fully owned by Belgian citizens and 31 companies jointly owned by Qatari and Belgian citizens are currently operating in Qatar, praising the expectations and ambitions of both governments and the capacities of their economies, which should encourage further cooperation. He noted that the Forum comes at a time of global economic uncertainties, regional challenges and the illegal blockade on Qatar on June 5 2017.

He added that the blockade was aimed at undermining Qatar’s position as an economically independent and sovereign state but has failed, adding that Qatar has emerged stronger and more economically independent than ever before.

In fact, the illegal blockade has presented an opportunity for Qatar to make its economy more accessible to the world, he said. The Minister stressed that Qatar has seized the opportunities that the illegal blockade has presented, noting that the Qatari economy continued its positive performance during the past year and into 2018 and has been largely unaffected by the blockade.

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.

The Forum aims at enhancing Qatari-Belgian economic, trade and investment cooperation and opening up new prospects for cooperation between representatives of the private sector in both countries in bid to launch investment projects that serve the interests of both Qatar and Belgium. The Minister 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.

Qatar’s total GDP increased to reach $220bn in 2017, compared with $218bn in 2016 while stressing that the blockade has resulted in a renewed determination to deliver long-term economic stability among the Qatari people.  Sheikh Ahmed added that annual real GDP at constant prices grew better than expected at 2 percent in 2017.

While Qatar’s economic stability is built on its vast natural resources, the Minister said economic diversification has become a top priority for the government, which offers numerous opportunities to Belgian investors.

The Minister said the share of the non-oil and gas sector in the nation’s GDP at constant prices was 52 percent last year while foreign trade increased by 16 percent, reaching $103bn compared with $89bn in 2016.

Qatar’s total exports increased by 19 percent to reach $68bn in 2017 from $57bn in 2016, the minister said. As a result, Trade surplus increased by 40 percent in 2017, reaching $35bn compared with $25bn in 2016, which reflected positively on Qatar’s ranking on several international indicators, the minister added.

The Minister 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. He highlighted Qatar’s advanced ranking on the latest Global Competitiveness Index, noting that the country ranks first for its safe business environment, second for the impact of tax on business, third for government procurement of advanced technology, fifth for venture capital availability and fifth for 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, Sheikh Ahmed said that investors can take advantage of a tax-free environment, allowing for up to 10 years Income Tax exemption for selected investment projects across many 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 percent 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 state is currently developing two free zones spanning 35 sqm. This will position Qatar as an ideal destination for foreign direct investment, the minister said, adding 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 that the government is currently working on issuing a PPP law that will coincide with the launch of a number of investment projects. He added that a law regulating the investment of non-Qatari capital in economic activity was recently issued in line with the highest international standards. This law significantly eases the registration of companies, the minister added.

He also noted that investing in Qatar is now easier through the Invest in Qatar Center, which aims to help investors establish their businesses.

The Minister also highlighted the state-of-the-art infrastructure provided to investors and Qatar’s position as a global geographical hub.  Hamad International Airport’s role as one of the biggest airports in the region, with passenger capacity of more than 30 million 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, the minister 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 percent of regional trade.

He added that Hamad Port, which can accommodate up to7.5 million cargo containers annually, has contributed to the state’s success in launching new and direct trade routes linking Qatar with many nations around the world as well as positioning the country as a transit point for trade across the Middle East.

He invited Belgian and other European businesses to enter the Qatari market, which is full with 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  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 a separate presentation, the participating Qatari delegation also shed light on logistic services, World Cup 2022-related projects and the energy sector as well as challenges and opportunities for Qatari-Belgian cooperation. The session was attended by Sheikh Meshal bin Jabor Al Thani, Director of Energy Affairs at Ministry Of Energy and Industry, Fahad Rashid al Kaabi, CEO of Manateq Company, and Eng 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 challenges. The event was attended by Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker,  Mohamed Al Sada, CEO of Hassad Food, Hassan Al Ibrahim, Acting Chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority and Salem Al Kubaisi, Chief cooperate services officer at Katara Hospitality.