Our national economy remains, as it has always been, our primary preoccupation, and diversifying income sources has become a necessity that we seek to achieve by various means, namely through allowing the private sector to actively participate in various aspects of economic activity and the overall development of the State and to promote investments for future generations. Our economy has achieved good growth rates in terms of GDP, as it recorded a growth rate of 6.3% in 2014. Realizing this rate is considered a great achievement if we take into account that the contribution of the hydrocarbon sector in GDP did not post any significant increase in the same year, meaning that growth came from expansion in the non-oil sectors, such as the financial and construction sectors, which have been stimulated by the huge external and internal investments, whereby the growth rate reached about 11%, in addition to the development in this year's trade balance compared to previous years, which led to a surplus in the trade balance of 52% as a percentage of GDP.
While that growth was accompanied by a rise in the inflation rate to 3.1% in 2013, we continue our efforts to curb inflation through coordinating fiscal and monetary policies, encouraging competition, and setting a timetable for implementing major projects to reduce pressure on capacities. Encouraging competition to reduce prices will not be enough, but it is necessary to ease red tape procedures that increase investment risk, raise storage capabilities, and improve conditions to try to reduce real estate prices, while planning carefully for managing and implementing projects so as to avoid the constant change of specifications during the course of work that may increase costs. It is also necessary to control the prices of consumer goods.
With our constant emphasis on the private sector as the main partner in development, the government has approved an ambitious program to stimulate the private sector and support infrastructure for trade. The government is also in the process of completing the preparation of new legislation and measures that will contribute to developing the business environment and leaving the widest possible space for the private sector to contribute to sustainable development in the business sector. Within the context of our efforts to encourage foreign investment, non-Qataris have been allowed to increase the percentage of equity stake they own in companies listed on the Qatar Exchange, and GCC citizens have now the same treatment accorded to Qataris in this respect.
The government has taken other serious steps to promote the participation of the private sector, by encouraging government institutions to assign services and support operations to private companies, and a circular has been issued requiring the State-funded institutions not to establish companies or engage in economic activities without permission from the Office of the Prime Minister, as the State should not compete with the private sector. Within the same context, Mesaieed Petrochemical Company was listed on the stock exchange under the State's plan to offer part of the shares of leading government companies for the public, in order to increase citizen participation in economic activity and strengthen financial markets in the State.
In preparation for the annual budget for the year 2014-15, raising the efficiency of government spending was taken into account, allocating a large part of the increase in expenditure for implementing major projects in the health, education, infrastructure, and transportation sectors, since the total expenditure on these projects will be over 50% of the total expenditure in the budget for this year. Total budget expenditure estimates have reached $60 billion with an increase of 3.7% over the previous budget. I would like to emphasize that our economy is strong and solid and will not be affected by developments such as declining oil and fuel prices, as our budget is based on very conservative estimates.
Perhaps the best testament to the success of our economic policies and the strength and status of the Qatari economy is the international indices, which are prepared in accordance with the principles of objectivity and with actual figures, showing that Qatar has maintained an advanced credit rating, among the highest in the world, and is ranked high on global competitiveness indices.
Regarding our foreign relations, the GCC remains our main regional home. Supporting it and strengthening our relations with all our sisterly countries, and deepening the bonds of fraternity among us, come at the forefront of our foreign policy priorities.
Our region is passing through a dangerous stage where there are concurring crises in many countries in the region, foremost among which are the failure of the peace negotiations to solve the Palestine issue, the continuation of occupation and settlement policy in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the siege on Gaza. The other major crises have resulted from driving the peaceful movements of the peoples in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya into bloody confrontations whose responsibility is borne by the forces that rejected the path of reform and gradual peaceful transition and confronted the peoples with arms, apart from the growing perils of terrorism and extremism that threaten dire consequences.
I said before that terrorism and extremism could not be addressed by air strikes. This is true from a military point of view, but also from both a political and social perspective, we must get rid of the reasons that have contributed to the formation of social environments that incubate extremism, namely the unprecedented violence perpetrated by the Syrian regime, and practiced by some militias in Iraq. Any policy to combat terrorism in Syria and Iraq that does not take this into account is a crisis management policy without a strategy. I would add here that our position toward terrorism and religious radicalism offending the religious sentiment and the community is a clear and categorical rejection, regardless of the analysis of the causes of its inception and handling. Our stand regarding combating terrorism and taking the life of another without right, and rejecting extremism, first and foremost, emanates from the social and cultural threat that it poses to our society, our religion, and our nation. We do not want us or our children to live under such ideas and practices.
The government is currently leading efforts to implement the national development strategy 2011-16. This strategy has been subjected to an objective appraisal three years after being launched to monitor progress made in its implementation, and the amendments to its targets in light of changes in various economic, social, and demographic factors. This appraisal has shown that a number of parties that are taking part in the development march have drawn up their operational plans. It has also shown that the institutional cooperation and coordination between these parties have achieved positive beginnings. Yet, some parties have not done that yet.
I have issued my directives to the Prime Minister to prepare plans with a practical timetable to solve issues related to warehouses, logistical areas, economic zones, industrialization plans, licensing the required factories for the State, resolving workers' housing issues, developing a plan to meet the need for land plots in the State, and a plan for promoting economic and trade sectors, activating the financial and stock markets, launching the first agricultural and food group, and developing a strategy for tourism with an illustration of tourist projects that will be completed during the next two years.
Sourced from the speech of His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar at the opening of the 43rd Advisory Council Session, November 11th, 2014.