Changing Times


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Although internal debate on the adoption of Qatar's first constitution since independence dominated much of the headlines this week, many eyes were also being cast across the other side of the world, as events in East Asia also showed great promise for the future.

The new constitution - dubbed "historic and glorious" by secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, Sultan bin Abdallah al-Suidi, in an interview with AFP - allows for free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly "according to the law". It also clears the way for the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers and allows 45 members of parliament to be elected, while the Emir reserves the power to appoint the remaining 15 members.

The constitution, which came into effect on June 9, states that "Qatar is an independent and sovereign Arab country," and that "Its religion is Islam and sharia is the main source of legislation. Its regime is democratic and its official language is Arabic."

Describing the sharia as the main source for legislation is also an important point, according to Jamal Yahya, the Egyptian expert who helped formulate the charter, as although "Sharia is one of the fundamental sources of the legislation, [this] means it is not the only one."

The new charter also reforms the judicial system by scrapping separate religious and civil courts, and gives men and women equal rights under the law. This allows for the granting of voting rights in parliamentary elections to Qatari women.

Now, a series of committees are being set up to prepare an elections law, which will involve the marking out electoral districts and constituencies. While no date has been set for national parliamentary elections, Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jabir Al Thani has hinted these could take place in the first half of 2006.

The move is likely to please the US, although Qatari officials were quick to stress that it comes not as a result of external pressure.

At the same time, there has been some criticism that the constitution - which was originally approved by referendum back in April 2003 - does not go far enough, as it does not allow for the formation of political parties and stipulates that no changes can be made to it for the first 10 years. Power also largely remains in the hands of the Emir.

Nonetheless, the constitution is also being widely placed in the context of further liberalisation across both the political and economic fields in Qatar.

"In an increasingly globalised economy, our common efforts must reconcile the requirements of political reform and economic justice," the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, told the Forum on Democracy and Free Trade held in Doha back in March.

The global economy was certainly very much on the agenda this week too, as the Emir continued his Far Eastern tour. After visiting Japan, Sheikh Hamad was in Singapore on June 10 as talks between the city state and Qatar on establishing a free trade agreement (FTA) reached a conclusion.

A statement by the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry said that the comprehensive Qatar-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (QSFTA) had been substantially agreed and would cover areas including trade in goods and services, e- commerce, investment, government procurement, customs and media co-operation.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also announced that day that the two countries had agreed to set up a joint ministerial committee to boost bilateral co-operation.

The QSFTA foresees benefits for Singapore in that its service industries will gain better access to the construction, transportation and professional services markets in Qatar, while the Qatari side will gain better access to Singapore's professional, financial services, distribution and social services markets.

The Far East is growing rapidly in importance for Qatar as a regional market, a point also highlighted this week by the announcement on June 9 that the Qatar Shipping Company (Q-Ship) had signed a $1.4bn contract with Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd. to design, build, launch, equip and deliver four identical very large gas carriers (VRGC).

These will have a loading capacity of 82,200 cu metres per carrier, and are to be delivered between 2008 and 2009. The deal forms part of the colossal expansion programme Q-Ship has planned, aimed at meeting major future demand for Qatari gas. The country has proven reserves of natural gas exceeding 14 trillion cu metres, or more than 5% of the world total, and is the third-largest reserve in the world.

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