Qatar's six-year blueprint emphasises private sector development and entrepreneurship


Like many of its GCC neighbours, Qatar has implemented an overarching, long-term strategy that provides a set of development objectives, known as Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). Organised around four main pillars – human, social, economic and environmental development – the stated goal of QNV 2030 is to transform the country into an “advanced country… capable of sustaining its own development and providing for a high standard of living for all its people for generations to come.” To break down broad strategic goals into sectoral objectives, the National Development Strategies (NDS) created measurable desired outcomes and key performance indicators for assessing progress.


The first NDS ran from 2011 to 2016 and broadened the four pillars of QNV 2030 into 20 “key challenges”, each with a strategic response. For example, the challenge of ensuring economic sustainability amid a reduction in hydrocarbons resources was met by establishing a hydrocarbons depletion policy, sustaining high rates of saving, and making investments in human capital and financial assets. Meanwhile, reforms in budgetary and fiscal processes, public investment programming, liquidity management and domestic capital market development will work to ensure economic stability.

Beyond these 20 key challenges the NDS 2011-16 was broken down into 14 sector-specific strategies, including economic diversification and private sector development, natural resource management, economic infrastructure, the labour market, and education and training. Each sector had its own responsible agency that worked in collaboration with the then-titled General Secretariat for Development and Planning (now the Ministry for Development Planning and Statistics, MDPS) to produce the strategies. Since then Qatar has risen four places on the UN Development Programme’s human development index, climbing from 37th in 2011 to 33rd in 2015.

Room For Growth

In terms of delivery, the scale and ambition of the NDS 2011-16 resulted in some challenges. While noting the tremendous progress achieved under the plan, the UN’s mid-term report on the first round of the NDS 2011-16 emphasised the need for greater cross-sector and inter-agency collaboration, as well as “additional project management and technical capacity” in implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

These observations were echoed in the government’s report on the UN’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2016, which noted among lessons learned from NDS 2011-16 that “the monitoring and reporting system is indispensable in monitoring the progress made in the various targeted sectors”, with the paper also stressing “the importance of official and public partnership” in achieving desired results.

Second Coming

The government is preparing to carry forward these lessons in the second NDS. The new plan will cover the period between 2017 and 2022. The NDS 2017-22 attempts to capture the changing circumstances of the economy as it shifts from an emphasis on projects – particularly the delivery of big, built infrastructure developments – to a more policy-focused approach, in which the goal is to strengthen institutional capacity and help Qatar transition into a knowledge economy.

“The NDS 2017-22 aims to diversify the economy through a competitive and internationally attractive private sector platform. One of our advantages is that Qatar is already positioned as a trusted and reliable global partner that is attractive to business owners and multinational corporations,” Saleh bin Mohammed Al Nabit, minister of development planning and statistics, told OBG. “Despite the challenges that have come knocking, the kingdom has emerged stronger thanks to its leadership and policies which emphasise dialogue and mutual respect. Qatar has always fulfilled its contractual agreements with global partners and countries, including those with whom it has had differences.”

Six sectors of the economy have been identified as priorities for diversification: manufacturing, specifically of high-value competitive tradeable goods such as pharmaceuticals and downstream petrochemicals; financial services; professional and scientific activities; tourism; logistics; and information and communications. These sectors were identified with the help of detailed analysis of the current economic situation undertaken in coordination with the World Bank. Indeed, the NDS 2017-22 is expected to build on the work of a mid-term review of the first plan conducted by the World Bank in 2013-14, which recommended streamlining the initial 14 sectors into eight, and sought to re-establish priorities that considered falling global oil prices and the major infrastructure works under way to prepare the country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

While the NDS 2011-16 resulted in a substantial amount of economic diversification, this predominantly occurred in non-tradeable areas such as construction, or in an expansion of services to the non-Qatari population.

Transitioning into high-value-added sectors and preparing for a change in demographics are priorities of the NDS 2017-22. The authorities expect a significant drawdown in the number of expatriate workers during the course of the NDS 2017-22, with estimates that around 500,000 may return to their home countries following the completion of infrastructure projects for the World Cup.

In addition, the profile of expatriate workers in Qatar is moving away from predominantly blue-collar occupations into professional roles, with some 150,000-200,000 highly skilled workers and their dependents projected to arrive.

Next Steps 

This will lead to a change in the structure of demand for a range of goods and services. More generally, however, preparing the economy to attract such highly skilled workers will be a major challenge for the NDS 2017-22. This will necessitate a renewed focus on reforms to the policy environment as opposed to infrastructure investments.

While improvements to the business environment were already a primary goal for the NDS 2011-16, a good deal of work is still to be done in this area. Despite a new foreign investment law in October 2016, a number of barriers to entry for would-be foreign entrepreneurs remain. As a result, reforms to company ownership, a new legal framework for public-private partnerships, reforms to bankruptcy laws and the continued implementation of a single window for regulatory approvals may be high on the agenda of the new plan.

Shifting priorities, and the economic blockade imposed on Qatar in mid-2017, have also raised questions relating to food production and self-sufficiency in the country. Concerns over food security persist throughout the GCC and wider region due to low rainfall, and the solution will likely come from public-private partnerships.

“Along with government support, the development of Qatar’s food security will also heavily rely on strong private sector participation,” Abdulrahman Al Khayarin, CEO of Widam Food, told OBG. “The country is currently investing in expanding its farming and production facilities, which will place the kingdom on the right path to self-sufficiency.”

In general, the focus of the NDS 2017-22 is likely to be on regulatory and rule reform, and on improvements to the policy environment. Simplifying procedures, streamlining ministries and agencies, and strengthening capacity in the public sector are likely to emerge as new priorities. Particularly, coordination between departments is need of strengthening. It is possible that oversight and evaluation of the NDS 2017-22 will be shifted away from the MDPS and into a dedicated entity within the prime minister’s office. This could be useful in creating a delivery unit that can intervene in struggling projects.

The Road Ahead

The NDS 2017-22 must oversee a transition in economic development away from a “building” phase and towards a “use” phase. Capital investments will likely continue to feature heavily in the period leading up to 2022, but long-term planning goals are already looking beyond the current pipeline and towards a more sustainable future.

Such a future would make the country less input driven. Rather, this will likely lead to an increasingly high-value-added, knowledge-based and well-integrated economy within global markets. Achieving this will require incentivising the private sector, overseeing a change in the labour mix, and putting together the right policies, rules and regulations.

This would be no small order for a six-year plan. However, with the experiences of the first NDS behind it, the government now appears to have a solid foundation on which to build the NDS 2017-22.

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