How would you describe the major changes that the QFC has undergone in the last year?
In 2015, the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) celebrated 10 years of facilitating firms' success, supporting the growth of the Qatari private sector and helping to diversify the economy. When the QFC broadened its platform in 1Q2014, it initiated a series of legal and structural enhancements to accommodate non-financial institutions within its framework. To promote the addition of these non-financial permissible activities to a wider audience, we embarked on an outreach program, which was carried out throughout 2015. This program involved participating in key industry events locally and internationally to shed light on the growing business opportunities in Qatar and explain the different options for setting up under the QFC. Our efforts resulted in an increase of over 35% in the number of new QFC licensed companies as of October 2015. In addition to our structural enhancements, our tax department introduced a new credit for tax losses scheme, which to the best of our knowledge is a world first. This scheme allows QFC-licensed firms who launched operations after January 1, 2015 to receive cash payments for tax losses incurred in the first two accounting periods of operation. The tax credit is calculated at a rate of 8% on eligible losses and licensed firms can claim up to a cumulative maximum payment of QAR200,000. In a further move, by allowing wholly-owned Qatari companies to apply for a 0% concessionary tax rate, we have increased the appeal and benefits for local enterprises. Local companies now account for around 30% of our licensed firms. The support the QFC gives does not however stop once an organization becomes a QFC firm. We demonstrated the QFC's strong commitment to supporting the needs of our community by establishing the Employment Standards Office (ESO) as an independent entity. The ESO ensures that both employers and employees are protected through robust regulations, codes and procedures. The ESO is also responsible for enforcing compliance with regulations, ensuring the fair treatment of employers and employees, encouraging communication between its members, facilitating dispute resolution and developing a productive QFC workforce.
Along the same lines, what are some of the most important objectives that the QFC must reach in the coming years?
We are seeking to build on the QFC's remarkable growth in 2015 and reap the rewards of further improvements to our platform. Tax incentives, an improved legal framework, and enhanced client relations will drive our innovation agenda in the coming years in a bid to further cement our position as a leading destination for doing business in Qatar and the region. As such, we believe the QFC will further integrate itself within the fabric of Qatar's economy and will continue to attract an increasing number of local and international firms by facilitating their success.
With the GCC seen as an attractive investment destination, albeit a competitive one, what role do you think Qatar can play as a financial hub of the region?
Qatar is recognized as a stable country with an economy that has been consistently ranked amongst the fastest-growing in the world. While significant downside risks are building in many countries across the world amid a slump in oil prices, Qatar is expected to maintain its solid performance over the coming years thanks to its prudent economic diversification policies and the vast majority of projects are expected to continue as planned as Qatar develops its infrastructure. We have noticed that there is increased interest in other areas of investment aside from oil and gas, notably construction and transport. Qatar's real GDP growth is expected to accelerate from 6.8% in 2014 to 7.8% in 2016, driven mainly by the double-digit expansion of the country's non-hydrocarbon sector. There are a number of opportunities to benefit from these sustained growth predictions across various sectors. Qatar has always been a gateway between East and West. Earlier this year Qatar National Bank, Qatar International Islamic Bank (QIIB) and Chinese brokerage Southwest Securities signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a company handling Islamic finance deals in China.