How would you assess the results of 2019 for QFC?
2019 was an exceptionally good year for QFC, and we have seen 22% growth in terms of the number of companies compared to 2018. A great deal of our focus this year has been on increasing the number of companies and highly-skilled workers in the market. Since announcing our new business strategy, we have also focused on intensifying our relations with our global partners. In 2018, we announced we would start work on the New Emerging Belt Initiative markets, which include Iraq, Oman, Kuwait, Southeast Asia, and Turkey. This amounts to USD2 trillion of GDP surrounding Qatar. Since 2017, we have attracted more companies doing regional business rather than only focusing on the local market. A large part of our emphasis has been on attracting companies that want to do business in these markets.
How many companies do you have in total established in QFC?
We have more than 760 companies now. We had 22% growth in 2019 alone, which is equivalent to 120 companies. We are talking about 100% growth since 2017. We saw growth of 66% in 2017, 33% in 2018, and more than 20% in 2019, so there has been a positive flow of foreign companies establishing themselves in QFC and Qatar.
How are you working with the Investment Promotion Agency Qatar (IPAQ) to avoid overlapping with other free zones?
We are currently defining sectors with the state of Qatar and IPAQ. Our core business is financial services, and none of the financial service activities will be anywhere else except QFC. That is a big part of our business proposition. Regarding different sectors, one can establish themselves either in the QFC or QFZA. What we seek to do is minimize the overlapping as much as possible through IPAQ, which will coordinate all the efforts by serving as a complete source of investment solutions for FDI.
How is QFC facilitating the establishment of fintech companies in Qatar?
Our main focus right now is on fintech. The sector has been an intensive investment pocket. The MENA region has been slightly slower because the regulations have not been formulated yet; however, we expect fintech to play an important role in our strategy. We have already licensed a handful of companies, even though the regulations are not ready. We are working closely with the central bank to come up with a sandbox for fintech companies. We see many technological finance companies moving into QFC and working with local banks. This is an area moving dynamically day by day, though we happen to be the only gateway into the country for technological companies in the financial space. There is a broader digital strategy with the ministry. Our role is to allow the digital companies being seeded by the ministry or QSTP to operate freely without any hindrance and hopefully have a cluster of digital companies moving into Qatar through the QFC platform.
What are the next practical steps that you plan to implement in QFC?
We want to attract more than 1,000 companies and create 10,000 jobs. We want to contribute to more listings on the stock exchange. We have announced those targets and are fixed on achieving them by 2022. All that has to do with attracting more FDI and creating more highly skilled labor on the ground, contributing to the growth of the Qatari population. 85% of our population right now is blue collar, and in order to generate the most benefit possible on our GDP, we need to focus more on the business community and high-skilled labor. QFC, the free zones, the ministry, and Media City have all been put together to contribute toward that goal, which is creating a world-class business environment, contributing to white-collar employment, and being able to grow the population in Qatar.