ENOUGH TO GO AROUND

Qatar 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Whatever the challenges facing the country, its location, vision, and regulatory framework have kept growth on pace and bolstered its doing business rankings.

Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari
BIOGRAPHY
Appointed Minister of Commerce and Industry in November 2018, Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari joined Qatar National Bank (QNB) in 1988 and became QNB group chief executive officer in 2013. In between, he was executive general manager and group chief business officer of QNB. He is also chairman of the MasterCard Middle East and North Africa Advisory Board, QNB Capital (the investment banking and advisory arm of QNB Group), QNB, and Privee Suisse in Switzerland. He is also Vice Chairman of Qatar Exchange. He holds an MS in information systems from Seattle Pacific University, and a bachelor’s in math and computer science from Eastern Washington University. He has attended a number of executive programs at Wharton, London Business School, Cambridge, and Duke.

Qatar has improved its ranking in several indicators of the World Bank's Doing Business report. What factors lie behind this?

Qatar has undertaken several measures to improve its ranking in terms of ease of doing business by reducing the number of procedures and time required to start a business, introducing a one-stop shop to streamline foreign investment applications, providing greater support for international investors throughout all stages of their applications, and offering consumer credit scores to banks, financial institutions, and borrowers. Qatar has also abolished the paid-in minimum capital requirement for limited liability companies and exempted invested foreign capital from income tax for up to 10 years, for specific investment projects. These measures have resulted in improved rankings when it comes to the Starting a Business or Access to Credit Information indicators. Furthermore, Qatar has issued new laws and introduced amendments to existing legislation to attract and encourage domestic and foreign investments. These include amendments to the Investment Free Zones Law and a draft law regulation for the Investment of Non-Qatari Capital in Economic Activity, which allows up to 100% foreign investment in all economic and trade activities. At present, Qatar is in the process of drafting a public and private partnership law to pave the way for the launch of several investment projects.

The IMF forecasts a growth rate of around 2.6% in 2018 and the upcoming years. How has the ministry managed to orchestrate an effective response to the blockade and guarantee Qatar's growth?

Ensuring the continuous flow of goods and commodities to Qatar has always been one of the government's priorities. We had plans, strategies, and projects that were formulated several years ago to overcome any regional or global economic crises and ensure the flow of goods, services, and food products to all citizens and residents without interruption. After the illegal blockade was imposed on Qatar in June 2017, Qatar utilized its world-class facilities such as Hamad Port and Hamad International Airport and its hi-tech logistics capability to mobilize existing regional agreements with Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia. Qatar has undertaken several investment projects to cement public-private partnerships. Within the framework of these, the state has launched an initiative to establish four aquaculture projects. The government has issued licenses to establish four greenhouse agricultural projects to produce 80,000 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables a year, a production rate of 20,000 tons per year per project. Qatar has also completed the first phase of a program aimed at maintaining a strategic stock of food supplies and feed, whereby the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has built a stockpile to cover the strategic needs of the state.

What other initiatives can we expect to increase the global competitiveness of Qatar?

Qatar has introduced an array initiatives and projects designed to foster a competitive and investment-friendly business environment and bolster the country's infrastructure, human capital, and international relations. For example, to increase the size and share of exports of non-hydrocarbon goods and services, Qatar has developed a high-standard end-to-end supply chain that enhances its export competitiveness and cultivates its market positioning regionally and globally. We are also developing a public-private partnership (PPP) framework, including the law, governance mechanisms, and implementation tools. In a short time, all will be in place to open a new chapter for private project finance initiatives in Qatar. These have resulted in the nation achieving advanced positions in the latest Global Competitiveness Index. Globally, Qatar ranks first in terms of low inflation rates, sixth in terms of the effect of taxes on competition, eighth in terms of venture capital availability, and ninth in terms of financing SMEs, according to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2018.

What is your message to investors or entrepreneurs considering starting a business in Qatar, and what is your overall outlook for 2019?

Qatar is a country with a prime strategic location, excellent transport connectivity, and a favorable business environment that offers opportunities and incentives across a variety of economic sectors. We all know that the world's trade focal point is moving east, from Europe to Asia. Qatar is ideally situated to enable investors to capture the opportunities arising from this significant change. We are located at the heart of the triangle connecting Europe, Asia, and Africa. We are capitalizing on this strategic location by developing superior logistics infrastructure and assets. These include a world-class airport which will soon achieve a passenger capacity of 50 million. Notably, the nation's flag carrier, Qatar Airways, serves more than 150 destinations. Furthermore, the newly opened Hamad Port, a USD7.4-billion project, will be able to accommodate up to 7.5 million containers in the future, with the potential for further expansion. The port currently accounts for 27% of regional trade in the Middle East. Due to its massive mineral reserves, Qatar is the world's largest LNG exporter and has the largest gas-to-liquid facility in the world. In terms of downstream products, we have an extremely competitive petrochemicals industry and are the world's largest exporter of helium and the fourth largest producer of urea. With all this in mind, the nation's outlook remains positive, driven by a competitive business environment, far-reaching reforms, and the government's infrastructure investment push in preparation for the FIFA 2022 World Cup. We expect to achieve the same growth rate in 2019. Thanks to Qatar's ability to reroute its trade, we expect to have a trade surplus and low inflation in 2019. Qatar's foreign trade increased by 16% by the end of 2017 to reach USD103 billion, compared with USD89 billion in 2016, while exports increased by 18% to USD67 billion in 2017 compared to USD57 billion in 2016. This resulted in a trade surplus of 49.9% in 2017, rising from USD25.18 billion in 2016 to USD37.75 billion in 2017. I would like to invite local and international entrepreneurs and investors to invest in Qatar and grow with us.