H.E. ALI BIN AHMED AL-KUWARI

Qatar 2021 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to H.E. Ali bin Ahmed Al-Kuwari, Minister of Commerce and Industry, about the hydrocarbons price crisis, Qatar National Vision 2030, and the role of PPP projects in economic development.

Although 2019 and especially 2020 have been difficult years not only for Qatar but for the entire World, with challenges arising from the hydrocarbons price crisis and Covid-19 pandemic, there have been significant advancements in the country in terms of the three different areas of competence of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Can you share with us what have been the main milestones in this period?

The year 2020 witnessed many achievements for the Ministry of Industry and Commerce despite the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, which disrupted supply chains and normal business operations around the globe. In fact, Qatar led the region in enforcing measures to protect the health and safety of its citizens and residents, while also embracing an integrated strategy to bolster trade and economic activities in partnership with the private sector. The Ministry's multilayered strategy to mitigate the negative repercussions of the Covid-19 outbreak revolved around seven axes. These comprised securing supply chains and the flow of goods to Qatar; protecting consumers by combatting commercial fraud; supervising and regulating commercial activities; bolstering national industries and SMEs through stimulus measures and tax incentives; coordinating measures with various government agencies and industry representatives; processing consumer complaints; and launching awareness campaigns. Incentives and stimulus measures introduced to help navigate the crisis included the allocation of 75 billion Qatari riyals for the private sector, in addition to encouraging banks to defer loan installments and offering companies a grace period of six months. Other measures included exempting the small and medium industries sector from electricity and water fees, as well as rental fees in logistical areas, for a period of six months. The Ministry's strategy not only proved a success but also provided an opportunity for Qatar to draw lessons from the current crisis to further bolster local industries and promote e-commerce.

In 2019, Qatar managed to improve again its position and score in the Global Competitiveness Report and the Ease of Doing Business Report. What are the main reasons behind the increase in competitiveness and ease of doing business in the country, and how does the local consumer benefit from these improvements?

Qatar has striven to turn the ensuing challenges into opportunities to bolster the resilience of its national economy. We have worked to accelerate the development of non-oil sectors to support the state in its journey towards achieving economic diversification in line with the goals outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the National Development Strategy 2018-2022. In 2019, Qatar established the Investment Promotion Agency and issued a law regulating the investment of non-Qatari capital in economic activity, allowing up to 100% foreign ownership across various sectors and economic activities. The law offers several competitive benefits to foreign investors, including exemptions from income tax and customs duties on the import of machinery and equipment, and the freedom to repatriate profits and conduct transfers in any convertible currency. Non-Qatari investors and companies are now allowed to invest in the strategic real estate sector through investment funds, and to own properties in several vital economic and tourism areas across the country. Qatar also launched the Single Window, which brings together more than 22 government agencies under one platform to streamline procedures for investors. The initiative aims to stimulate the private sector and enhance its contribution to the economy by facilitating the establishment of businesses, as well as by standardizing business procedures through a one-stop-shop for investors. The inflow of foreign direct investment has contributed to the advancement of a dynamic business environment and cemented Qatar's position as a regional trade hub. This development has, in turn, bolstered the country's economic growth and reflected positively on consumers, the ultimate beneficiaries of a vibrant economy.

The first half of 2020 has been a period in which many countries have turned their back on international economic relations and prioritized their internal markets, resulting in international supply chain disruptions. What, in your assessment, will be the trends in international trade and FDI in the years to come, and what are Qatar's priorities in this regard?

It is too early for the real impact of these developments to be accurately assessed, but international discussions about how to rebalance the supply chains sector are now more urgent than ever. The supply chains sector should no longer be assessed from a cost efficiency perspective only. Instead, we must ensure that industry is flexible enough to withstand future circumstances to support the development of the global economy. Despite the significant impact that the coronavirus has had on the global economy, Qatar is confident that economies around the world will overcome this crisis, albeit in the context of new dynamics and parameters. Qatar is adapting to the post-Covid era, while maintaining its commitment to a multilateral trading system and to facilitating international trade, to ensure the smooth flow of goods and services between countries. Qatar is also strengthening international cooperation frameworks to ensure trade safety and continuity as the engine for economic recovery. In fact, Qatar was able to rapidly diversify local and global supply chains over the past years, and stepped up efforts to improve its logistics networks, which enabled the country to maintain a resilient, diversified and globally connected economy. For example, in the past few years, Qatar has rapidly established the Free Zones Authority, home to one of the most advanced digital and logistical systems worldwide, providing companies with access to a variety of physical or digital entry points to connect to global supply chains, through advanced communications and transportation infrastructure. The country's unique strategic location, with its international airport and port, also allows major companies to maintain their leadership in the field of logistics services, providing flexible and diversified solutions for firms looking to invest in Qatar. The Free Zones also provide a 'landing stage' for companies looking to partner with major Qatari firms.

What will be the key factors behind the expansion and diversification of the manufacturing sector in Qatar in the short-term, and how will foreign investors and the private sector in general contribute to the further industrialization of the country?

In line with its long-term economic diversification strategy, Qatar is seeking to further expand its investment horizons and enhance cooperation opportunities between the public and private sectors when it comes to the implementation of projects that contribute to the country's development. Qatar's focus on enhancing national industries and SMEs, and boosting their contribution to the implementation and development of various economic projects, has reflected positively on various sectors. In particular, the industrial sector attracted 263.8 billion Qatari riyals of investment in 2019, a three percent increase compared to 2017. The number of factories operating in Qatar increased to 914 in 2020, an increase of 19% compared to 2017, when the total number stood at 765. Qatar also recently secured the unanimous approval of the GS1 General Assembly to establish a barcode office for Qatari products. The barcode enables the tracking of locally-manufactured products, from the production stage through to retail, both domestically and internationally. This development demonstrates the Qatari private sector's ability to achieve self-sufficiency and to compete on a global level by exporting Qatari products.

Recently, Qatar has issued the Law No. 12 of 2020, regulating the partnership between public and private sectors. What are the incentives provided by this law to local and foreign investors? How will PPP projects contribute to economic development?

The private sector received a significant boost in 2020 with the issuance of Law No. 12 of 2020 on regulating the partnership between private and public sectors, which represents an important step in supporting and empowering the private sector to contribute to strengthening the national economy, and accomplishing the Qatar National Vision 2030. The law provides a multitude of incentives to both local and foreign investors in terms of risk diversification and mitigation, and improved access to finance, in addition to financial and tax incentives granted to the winning bidder, the company undertaking the project, and its major shareholders or subcontractors. In addition to providing a myriad of incentives to investors, the law facilitates the implementation of PPP projects. This will contribute to the creation of a dynamic business environment that will enhance the performance of the public sector and encourage government agencies to embrace a modern vision in managing national projects, ensuring their effective and efficient completion and enhancing their sustainability at the lowest cost. The law will also contribute to promoting competition and innovation, and to protecting consumers from monopolistic practices, while providing effective solutions to current economic and social challenges. On the other hand, the law provides incentives to the Qatari private sector to expand its operations and participate in economic development projects, thus strengthening the partnership between government agencies and large, small and medium-sized companies.

What are the strategic priorities of the MOCI for the medium-term, and how will you contribute to Qatar National Vision 2030 in the same period?

In the short-to-medium-term, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry will periodically analyse and monitor trade dynamics and key performance indicators across various industries to determine the impact of the coronavirus on the business environment, the private sector and small and medium-sized companies. Based on these studies and its monitoring of capital flows, the Ministry will revise regulations and recommend amendments to Qatar's legislative framework to bolster local industries and vital sectors in line with its long-term objective of promoting economic diversification and bolstering the contribution of the private sector to domestic development.