EMBASSY OPENINGS IN LISBON AND DOHA SIGN OF CLOSER RELATIONS

Qatar 2017 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to António Costa, Prime Minister of the Republic of Portugal, on direct flights, trade with Lusophone Africa, and opportunities for Qatari investors in Portugal.

Portugal holds strong economic and cultural ties with Qatar. What is your assessment of the historic relationship between the two countries?

Our political and diplomatic relations have traditionally been good. A few years ago, the diplomatic relations between the two countries were upgraded by the reciprocal opening of the respective embassies in both capitals. But there is still room for improvement, at the economic and cultural levels, for instance. Our aim is to keep reinforcing these relations, and I believe this is a common goal. My visit and the visit of His Highness the Emir of Qatar to Portugal in July will certainly contribute to reinforcing our bilateral ties, and I am certain other positive impacts will result from the launching of direct flights between our capitals, which Qatar Airways has announced.

As both sides expressed their willingness to boost trade, what are the potential areas of cooperation to be explored between Portugal and Qatar?

In the economic area, the biggest potential for improvement lies in trade and investment. Portugal's economy is very open, our conditions to attract foreign investment are competitive, and we not only offer a market of 10 million people, but also access to the largest market in the world, the European Union. Furthermore, we are ready to cooperate with Qatar in regions such as Brazil and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, with which we have long historic ties and where we have a consolidated economic presence and deep knowledge.

Portugal almost doubled the value of its exports to Qatar in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period last year. What opportunities do you foresee for Portuguese companies in Qatar?

In 2016, bilateral trade was only USD46 million, which represented an increase of about 15% compared to 2015. Portuguese exports of goods to Qatar increased 61% in 2016 and are increasing almost 31% in the first three months of 2017. This reveals the interest of Portuguese companies in this market. In 2015, almost 250 Portuguese companies exported to Qatar. Therefore, we see a great deal of opportunities in Qatar.

Qatar has earmarked Europe as one of the main destinations for its investments overseas. What makes Portugal a good opportunity for Qatari investors and what sectors are ripe for investment?

In fact, in spite of a good political relationship, the economic relations between the two countries are almost incipient. We have in place a set of institutional agreements that provide the framework for private companies to do business. But we need to stimulate them, as there are many mutually beneficial opportunities to explore. Qatar may take advantage of the Portuguese experience in areas in which Portugal has made large investments in the recent past, such as renewable energies, construction, infrastructures, health, and environmental industries related to water, sewage, and garbage collection. Qatari investors have important stakes in EDP and Vinci Portugal and there is a recent case of an important Qatari investment in the Portuguese touristic sector. Besides tourism, many opportunities exist for instance in real estate investment and urban renewal and development. Qatar may also find it interesting to consider Portugal as a platform to address markets in Europe, Latin America, or Africa. There is definitely room for many mutually beneficial partnerships between Portuguese and Qatari companies to explore business opportunities that contribute to diversify the Qatari economy. The Portuguese government is also keen to help in that effort by exchanging experiences with Qatari authorities in areas such as start-up policy, public administration modernization or innovation policy. Lisbon has hosted last year and will host in the coming years the Web Summit, Europe's largest tech event. We expect more than 60,000 participants in November, hopefully also from Qatar.

What are your expectations for Qatar's regional and international role in the coming years?

Qatar has played an important role in the development and stabilization of the Gulf and the entire region. We are certain that role will continue and that Qatar will reinforce its important role worldwide.