Interview: Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari

Where can policy work to capture the economic benefits of disruptive technology and foster the emergence of an entrepreneurial environment?

ALI BIN AHMED AL KUWARI: In recent years, Qatar has placed special emphasis on the development of the industrial sector within the framework of its integrated efforts to diversify the national economy and bolster innovation. Qatar is reviewing its policies and developing laws to protect intellectual property rights and facilitate trademark and patent registration. Through these policies the government seeks to empower local manufacturing companies that employ IT tools, biotechnology and artificial intelligence in production.

In this context, Qatar is providing incentives to encourage highly skilled entrepreneurs and investors to enter partnerships that will result in the launch of innovative products and international brands produced in Qatar. These efforts have resulted in tangible progress on an economic level, as Qatar’s non-oil GDP has risen by about 9%. Foreign investment inflows increased by 5% in the second quarter of 2019, to QR758.6bn ($208.3bn), as the private sector tapped new investment opportunities in the fields of education, health, transportation and technology.

To what extent is policy being developed to further improve the ease of doing business?

AL KUWARI: Qatar has introduced a wide range of initiatives and revised its legislative framework and business regulations to foster a competitive and investment-friendly business environment. This includes a law on regulating the investment of non-Qatari capital in economic activity that allows foreign investors up to 100% ownership in all economic and commercial activities. Qatar has also opened its real estate sector to foreign investors by easing restrictions on property ownership with the issuance of Law No. 16. The law enables investors to tap the property market in 16 areas through investments funds and allows freehold ownership in 10 strategic areas, as well as residential villas and shops within compounds and malls. In April 2019 the government also approved a draft law to regulate public-private partnerships, which will provide investors with the opportunity to finance, develop and operate projects in a number of priority sectors. Once ratified, the law will provide a legislative framework to involve the private sector in the implementation of various public projects through build-operate-transfer contracts, or other forms of partnerships depending on the nature of projects. These laws, coupled with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s constantly expanding list of services and initiatives, will deliver a major boost to the country’s business environment.

The ministry’s website offers 133 services that provide support for both local and international investors. These services complement additional platforms that the ministry has launched to streamline business and industrial activities across the country. These platforms include single-window services, which enable investors to complete numerous transactions such as the incorporation of companies and factories, the registration of trade names, and the issuance of commercial records, environmental permits and industrial licences.

Investors in the industrial sector also have access to other platforms such as the Qatar Industrial Portal, which provides access to accurate information and statistics relating to manufacturing industries. Other initiatives include the issuance of a construction licence for a warehouse within three working days, as well as the Own Your Factory in 72 hours initiative, which streamlines the issuance of all industrial and environmental approvals and licences.

What is Qatar doing to support the growth and development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for 15-20% of GDP?

AL KUWARI: Qatar attaches great importance to the promotion of SMEs given their role in bolstering competitiveness in the national economy and contributing to the government’s diversification efforts. The ministry has therefore launched one of the most notable initiatives of its kind in the region to create a unified definition of SMEs in Qatar, which will contribute to the development of policies that strengthen the sector and facilitate to the growth of licensed home-grown businesses. The initiative will ensure equal support for SMEs and entrepreneurs seeking to benefit from available programmes and initiatives. It will also facilitate the introduction of specialised programmes targeting SMEs in cooperation with Qatar Development Bank. The unified definition will help to draw a clear map for the structure of business institutions in Qatar – micro-, small, medium and large – which will ultimately help analyse the current situation of the sector and formulate future plans. The definition will also facilitate access to capital by providing preferential treatment to SMEs, which will enable entities like investment funds and venture capital companies to participate in financing SMEs. Within the framework of the country’s National Development Strategy 2018-22, Qatar is expanding its small and medium industrial area to promote investment in the industrial sector and to bolster the productivity of national industrial companies. With the allocation of more land for the country’s industrial SME segment, we will see the development of 739 new industrial plots and the creation of promising investment opportunities in non-oil sectors.

The Qatari economy has gained momentum with new national companies going public and the establishment of over 862 local companies in the fields of food production, services and manufacturing. Qatar has also made significant progress in terms of implementing its major development strategies. The country has positioned itself as one of the most stable, competitive and growth-oriented economies in the region. The World Bank expects the Qatari economy to grow by 2% in 2019, compared to 1.4% in 2018, driven by higher growth in the services sector and preparations to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

What makes a workforce capable of meeting the needs of an increasingly diversified economy?

AL KUWARI: In line with the government’s nationwide efforts to digitise transactions across all public bodies and institutions, as well as to promote innovation in both the private and public sectors, Qatar has been focusing on equipping national cadres with the necessary skills to use the most advanced technologies in various fields. In this context, government bodies are offering practical training opportunities in line with the highest international standards. These opportunities assist professionals in acquiring more advanced skills in the field of artificial intelligence, among others, in order to meet the various needs of the country.

In what ways are new initiatives directing investment towards research and development (R&D)?

AL KUWARI: Qatar National Vision 2030 stresses the need to transform into a knowledge-based economy, and to have a sustainable and diversified base where the R&D and innovation sector plays a vital role in Qatar’s progress and continued prosperity. Our leadership has invested in developing local talent, and we have begun to reap the fruits of this investment through the availability and readiness of the human element. Developing educational institutions is therefore one of the most important components of the R&D ecosystem.

Furthermore, the Qatar Research Development and Innovation Council has been working to develop the national strategy for R&D and innovation, and aligning all national plans between the relevant actors in an effort to identify investment opportunities within this sector. The ministry has also working on ways to stimulate the private sector, especially manufacturers, to invest in R&D as one of the main avenues in order to improve the competitiveness of national products.