Here Come the Turks


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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The arrival in Doha of a major trade delegation from Turkey this week demonstrated once again the growing attractiveness of the region to Istanbul-based investors. At the same time, the Turkish prime minister's determination to push his country as a tourist destination also gave an opening for some in Qatar to take a look at their own tourism sector, as a major new project was announced.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been something of a frequent flier to the Gulf in recent weeks, having visited Saudi Arabia in late September, then Oman and the UAE, followed by Kuwait and Yemen. His trips have also ended in many contracts - if not also a little acrimony back in Turkey.

The Turkish leader sees his role as marketing his country to Gulf investors, a task most other world leaders also periodically take up. Yet this initiative sparked particular argument back in Turkey, where Arab investment has a political edge to it, given the secular establishment's sensitivity to anything that might be deemed "Islamic investment", alongside certain historical antagonisms.

Nonetheless, Erdogan was back in the Gulf again this week, this time in Qatar, where he headed up a 110-strong delegation of Turkish business leaders and government officials. In Doha he was warmly welcomed, with the visit including a private dinner with the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

The visit also bore fruit in a memorandum of understanding to set up a joint Qatari-Turkish panel to help promote mutual trade.

For Qatar, Mohamed bin Khalid al-Mana, the chairman of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (QCCI), welcomed Erdogan and his delegation and said that Turkish companies were very welcome to set up operations in Qatar and benefit from the country's ongoing economic boom.

The QCCI chief also said that foreign investment in Qatar had reached $120bn this year.

Following this up, Ali al-Sidiky, director of downstream ventures at Qatar Petroleum (QP), told the Turkish visitors that investment in Qatar's energy and power sectors was now widely forecast to hit around $100bn by the year 2011. This figure included investments in oil, gas, downstream and power plants, he added.

These are mighty numbers, somewhat dwarfing the levels of investment in Turkey, even though this year has been particularly good on that score for the Turks. The country's privatisation programme has brought in some $20bn, Rona Yircal, the chair of Turkey's foreign economic relations board, DEIK, told reporters in Doha, while a raft of more investment-friendly laws has also been passed, or is in the pipeline.

Furthermore, Turkey is on the path to EU membership, making it an important potential gateway for Gulf investors interested in the European market.

The Turkish government has also now agreed a bill authorising "sukuk icara" investments - stocks based on assets - which will ease the path of Islamic finance in Turkey, and likely serve as an attraction for many Gulf investors. Erdogan told reporters later in Bahrain that the cabinet had approved this bill, although it still had to go before parliament.

The visit also saw several other contracts signed, the most publicised one being between Turkish defence company ASELSAN and the Qatari authorities. The contract was for the establishment of electronic monitoring systems along Qatar's borders and x-ray machines for its customs posts.

Erdogan also wanted to use the visit to promote Turkey as a tourism destination for Qataris, advocating his country's wealth of ancient sites, coasts and cities. Yet news came this week too of a major new development in tourism in Qatar, with local newspaper The Peninsula reporting on November 12 that a leading European businessman was planning to develop a luxury polo club resort in the emirate.

The resort would include a boutique hotel, villas, apartments, polo club, tennis, golf, swimming, spa facilities and boutique shopping facilities, among other attractions.

Behind the scheme, the paper reported, is businessman Matthew Lawrence and his company, Amiri Developments.

The Peninsula said that Lawrence had recently met the new Qatari Ambassador to the UK, Khalid Rashid al-Hamoudi al-Mansouri, in London and had been promised full assistance in his plans by the Qatari government.

The development would be in keeping with Qatar's tourism master plan, which aims to establish the country as a high-end, luxury tourism destination. The plan wants to see the current 400,000 annual arrivals pass the 1m mark by 2010, an ambitious goal. However, with demand for hotel rooms outstripping supply, alongside little shortage of available capital, the plan seems entirely achievable. Perhaps in years ahead too, many more of the tourists checking in will be Turks, as trade and business links grow.

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