Interview: Ahmad Al Sayed
How are the strategies in place promoting Qatar’s long-term economic diversification?
AHMAD AL SAYED: Having experienced GDP growth from $8bn in 1995 to nearly $200bn in 2018, Qatar’s economy is strong and in a good position to create a diversified knowledge-based economy, with Doha as its centre. This will be achieved through strategic investments in education, health and infrastructure. Organisations such as Qatar Development Bank, Qatar Foundation, Qatar Science and Technology Park and Qatar Airways play key roles in this diversification, as have significant investments in air and maritime infrastructure.
Free zones have an important part to play as well, and we believe the benefits can run both ways. As Qatar strengthens and diversifies its economy, the benefits it can offer to foreign investors increases, which in turn helps growth to continue.
What sectors has Qatar identified as being particularly ripe for investment?
AL SAYED: Qatar has been proactive in boosting activity and attracting investment, with a particular focus on three key sectors. The first is logistics, which benefits from the strong air and maritime infrastructure already in place and the success of Qatar Airways, which currently performs the largest number of cargo operations in the world. Additionally, we hope to attract international investment by encouraging partnerships with domestic service providers to improve business and trading activities.
The second sector is the chemicals industry. As a global leader in the export of natural gas, the next step is to further develop the domestic downstream sector into other segments such as engineered materials, advanced textiles, and food ingredients.
Lastly, the third sector is new technologies – both as an industry in itself and also as a catalyst for increased business activity in other sectors. Our objective is to build joint ventures and partnerships to support digital industries in a range of areas, such as digitalisation, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, cybersecurity, analytics and e-commerce.
What are the advantages for businesses established in Qatar’s free zones?
AL SAYED: The concept behind Qatar’s free zones is to help drive continued and sustainable growth, and offer the benefits of that growth to the businesses that work with us. The regulatory environment supports that goal, allowing 100% foreign ownership and flexible visa policies, backed by strong intellectual property and data protection laws. Two sets of regulatory frameworks have been enacted concerning the establishment of companies and licence approval in the free zones, and a third set is currently under development. Importantly, QFZA is an independent regulatory body, which means that changes to free zone regulations only require approval from QFZA’s board.
We are focused on sectors where Qatar has a strong value proposition, so companies in those sectors can benefit from a community of like-minded organisations, and dedicated research and innovation facilities. We are also new, meaning that we can tailor solutions for businesses and evolve to best suit their needs.
To further encourage and support investment, we have unveiled a $3bn development and foreign direct investment fund, which will be focused primarily on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises. We also expect to be able to offer interesting partnership opportunities with leading local businesses. Qatar is geographically well positioned to serve as a centre for companies seeking to expand into nearby markets in Europe, North Africa and western Asia.
The overall aim of the free zone initiative is to facilitate partnerships that benefit Qatar, foreign companies operating in Qatar, and the global community. All of QFZA’s efforts and resources as a regulator and institution are streamlined towards achieving this goal.
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