Qatar

Executive Summary

The State of Qatar is one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Despite a decrease in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020, which stemmed from depressed hydrocarbon sales and the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown, Qatar’s real GDP recovered by the second quarter of 2021 and is expected to grow by four percent in 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) projections. This positive outlook is driven mainly by Qatar Energy’s ambitious plans to expand LNG production by more than 60 percent over the next five years. To maintain high-level government spending on projects in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar projects a modest $2.2 billion budget deficit in 2022, based on an oil price assumption of $55 per barrel.

The government remains the dominant actor in the economy, though it encourages private investment in many sectors and continues to take steps to encourage more foreign direct investment (FDI). The dominant driver of Qatar’s economy is the energy sector, which has attracted tens of billions of dollars in FDI. In line with the country’s National Vision 2030’sgoal of establishing a knowledge-based and diversified economy, the government of Qatar has recently introduced reforms to its foreign investment and foreign property ownership laws. These recent legislations allow up to 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses in most sectors and real estate in newly designated areas. In 2020, the government also enacted legislation to regulate and promote public-private partnerships.

There are significant opportunities for foreign investment in infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, energy, information and communications technology, and services. The government allocated $20 billion for major projects in these sectors in 2022. Measured by the amount of inward FDI stock, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, finance, and insurance are the primary sectors that attract foreign investors. The government provides various incentives to attract local and foreign investments, including exemptions from customs duties and certain land-use benefits. The corporate tax rate is 10 percent for most sectors, and there is no personal income tax. One notable exception is the corporate tax of 35 percent on foreign firms in the extractive industries, including but not limited to those in natural gas extraction.

Although the government of Qatar took recent measures to prosecute human rights violations, including improving its human trafficking legislation, addressing forced labor, and setting minimum wages, the country continues to face significant challenges that may affect foreign businesses. These include but are not limited to restrictions on free expression and peaceful assembly, restrictions on labor unions, discrimination against women in law and practice, and reports of forced labor.

To curb corruption and anti-competitive practices, the government created a regulatory regime consisting of various enabled government agencies, including the Transparency Authority, the National Competition Protection Authority, and the Anti-Monopoly Committee. To improve transparency, the government streamlined its procurement processes in 2016, creating an online portal for all government tenders. Nonetheless, personal connections reportedly play a significant role in business deals.

In recent years, Qatar has significantly bolstered its U.S. investments through its sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), and its subsidiaries, notably Qatari Diar. In 2019, QIA pledged to allocate $45 billion to U.S. investments, after it opened an office in New York City in 2015 to facilitate its U.S. investments. The November 2021 fourth annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue further strengthened strategic and economic partnerships and addressed obstacles to investment and trade. The fifth round of strategic talks is expected to take place in Doha in 2022.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 31 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 68 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 15.5 billion https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 55,990 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Over the past few years, the government of Qatar enacted reforms to incentivize and attract foreign direct investment (FDI). Recent FDI-friendly legislations include Law 1/2019 permitting full foreign ownership in most economic sectors, Law 16/2018 regulating foreign real estate investment and ownership, and Law 12/2020 regulating public-private partnerships. Implementing regulations for some of these laws is still pending. In 2019, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry set up the Investment Promotion Agency-Qatar to further attract inward FDI. Other FDI facilitating bodies include the Qatar Financial Centre, Qatar Science and Technology Park, and the Qatar Free Zones Authority, all of which offer full foreign ownership and repatriation of profits, tax incentives, and investment funds for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The government’s economic spending plans are also expected to create additional opportunities for foreign investors. For 2022, the government has allocated $20 billion for new non-oil sector projects, including new residential land development and the improvement of public services. The government also plans to increase LNG production, its primary source of revenue, to 126 million metric tons by 2027, and Qatari officials expect significant investment opportunities for international companies in the upstream and downstream sectors.

The government extends preferential treatment to suppliers who use local content in their bids on government contracts. Participation in tenders with a value of five million Qatari riyals ($1.37 million) or less is limited to local contractors, suppliers, and merchants registered with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Higher-value tenders, in theory, do not require any local commercial registration; in practice, certain exceptions exist.

Qatar maintains an ongoing dialogue with the United States through both official and private sector tracks, including the annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue and official trade missions. Qatari officials have repeatedly emphasized a desire to increase American investments in Qatar and Qatari investments in the United States.

Although Law 1/2019 on Regulating the Investment of Non-Qatari Capital in Economic Activity (replacing Law 13/2000) grants foreign investors the ability to invest in Qatar – either by partnering with a Qatari investor owning 51 percent or more of the enterprise or by applying to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for up to 100 percent foreign ownership – not all sectors are open to foreign investment. Law 1/2019 limits foreign ownership to 49 percent in the sectors of banking, insurance, and commercial agencies, barring a special dispensation from the Cabinet. Some sectors, such as telecommunications, are monopolized by local state-owned enterprises and are closed off to domestic or foreign competition.

Law 16/2018 on Regulating Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Properties allows foreign individuals, companies, and real estate developers freehold ownership of real estate but limits ownership to nine designated zones and ‎usufructuary rights up to 99 years in 16 other zones. Foreigners may also own villas within selected residential complexes and retail outlets in specific commercial complexes. Foreign real estate investors and owners are eligible for residency in Qatar for as long as they own their property. The Ministry of Justice created a Committee on Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Real Estate in December 2018 to regulate non-Qatari real estate ownership and use.

The Invest in Qatar Center within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is the entity responsible for vetting full foreign ownership applications. U.S. investors and companies are not disadvantaged by existing ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms more than other foreign investors.

Qatar underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) policy review in April 2021. The review may be viewed on the WTO website: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp396_e.htm 

Recent reforms have further streamlined the commercial registration process. Local and foreign investors may apply for a commercial license through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s physical one-stop-shop or online through the Invest in Qatar Center’s portal. Per Law 1/2019, upon submitting a complete application, the Ministry will issue its decision within 15 days. Rejected applications can be resubmitted or appealed. Upon approval, registering a small-size limited liability company in Qatar is estimated to take eight to nine days. For more information on the application and required documentation, visit: https://invest.gov.qa 

Domestic and foreign companies may also opt to register in one of Qatar’s economic zones:

Qatar does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. According to the World Bank, Qatar’s outward foreign investment stock reached $2.7 billion in 2020. Sectors that accounted for most of Qatar’s outward FDI are finance and insurance, transportation, storage, information and communication, and mining and quarrying. Per the latest statistics, Qatari investment firms held investments in over 80 countries, the top destinations being the European Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and other Arab countries.

3. Legal Regime

Qatar has taken measures to protect competition and ensure a free and efficient economy. The World Trade Organization recognizes Qatar’s legal framework to be conducive to private investment and entrepreneurship and enabling the development of an independent judiciary system. In addition to the National Competition Protection and Anti-Monopoly Committee, regulatory authorities exist for most economic sectors and are mandated to monitor economic activity and ensure fair practices.

According to the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, Qatar lacks a transparent rulemaking mechanism. Government ministries and regulatory agencies do not share regulatory plans or publish draft laws for public consideration. An official public consultation process does not exist in Qatar. Relevant ministries develop Laws and regulations. The 45-member Shura Council (30 of which are publicly elected officials) must reach a consensus to pass draft legislation, which is then returned to the Cabinet for further review and to the Amir for final approval. The text of all legislation is published online and in local newspapers upon approval by the Amir. All Qatari laws are issued in Arabic and eventually translated to English. Qatar-based legal firms provide translations of Qatari legislation to their clients. Each approved law explicitly tasks one or more government entities with implementing and enforcing legislation. These entities are clearly defined in the text of each law. In some cases, the law also sets up regulatory and oversight committees consisting of representatives of concerned government entities to safeguard enforcement. Qatar’s official legal portal is http://www.almeezan.qa .

Qatar’s primary commercial regulator is the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Commercial Companies’ Law 11/2015 requires that publicly traded companies submit financial statements to the Ministry in compliance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the International Accounting Standards (IAS). Publicly listed companies must also publish financial statements at least 15 days before annual general meetings in two local newspapers (in Arabic and English) and on their websites. All companies must prepare accounting records according to standards promulgated by the IAS Board.

Since joining the United Nations’ initiative on sustainable development (SSEI) in 2016, the Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) has encouraged, but not required, publicly traded companies to report on environmental, social, and governance issues (ESG). In November 2021, the QSE launched an ESG Index listing the top 20 securities with the best ESG profile, indicating that ESG disclosures may soon become a requirement of all listed companies.

The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) is the primary financial regulator that oversees all financial institutions in Qatar, per Law 13/2012, which established a Financial Stability and Risk Control Committee to promote financial stability and enhance regulatory coordination, headed by the QCB Governor. According to Law 7/2005, the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) Regulatory Authority is the independent regulator of the QFC firms and individuals conducting financial services in or from the QFC. Still, the QCB also oversees financial markets housed within QFC. QFC regulations are available at http://www.qfcra.com/en-us/legislation/ .

The government of Qatar is transparent about its public finances and debt obligations. QCB publishes quarterly banking data, including external government debt, government bonds, treasury bills, and Sukuk (Islamic bonds) at http://qcb.gov.qa/English/Publications/Pages/Publications.aspx 

Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – a political and economic regional bloc. Laws based on GCC regulations must be approved through Qatar’s domestic legislative process and are reviewed by the Qatari Cabinet and the Shura Council before implementation. Qatar has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1996 and usually notifies its draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Qatar’s legal system is based on civil and Islamic Sharia laws. The Constitution takes precedence over all laws, followed by legislation, decrees, and ministerial resolutions. The Supreme Judicial Council appoints all judges under Law 10/2003, oversees Qatari courts, and functions independently from the executive branch of the government, per the Constitution. Qatari courts adjudicate civil and commercial disputes per civil and Sharia laws. International agreements have equal status with Qatari laws; the Constitution ensures that international pacts, treaties, and agreements to which Qatar is party are respected. Contract enforcement is governed by the Civil Code Law 22/2004.

Law 21/2021 promogulated the establishment of an Investment and Commerce Court to oversee all commercial lawsuits and disputes. Pending the establishment of the new court, domestic and commercial disputes continue to be settled in civil courts. Decisions made in civil courts and the new Investment and Commerce Court can be appealed before the Court of Appeals or later the Court of Cassation. Law 20/2021 on Mediation in the Settlement of Civil and Commercial Disputes is applied when parties agree to mediate and settle commercial disputes.

Companies registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry are subject to Qatari courts and laws, primarily the Commercial Companies Law 11/2015. Meanwhile, companies set up through Qatar Financial Center (QFC) are regulated by commercial laws based on English Common Law and the courts of the QFC Regulatory Authority. The QFC legal regime is separate from the Qatari legal system—except for criminal law—and is only applicable to companies licensed by the QFC. Similarly, companies registered within the Qatar Free Zones Authority are governed by specialized regulations.

Law 1/2019 on Regulating the Investment of Non-Qatari Capital in Economic Activity and Law 16/2018 on Regulating Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Properties aim to encourage greater foreign investment in the economy by authorizing, incentivizing, and protecting foreign ownership. The MOCI’s Invest in Qatar Center is Qatar’s main investment registration body. It gives preference to investments that add value to the local economy and align with the country’s national development plans. It has a physical “one-stop-shop” and an online portal. For more information on investment opportunities, commercial registration application, and required documentation, visit https://invest.gov.qa .

Different laws and regulations govern foreign direct investment at the Qatar Financial Centre ( http://www.qfc.qa/ ), the Qatar Free Zones Authority (https://qfz.gov.qa/), the Qatar Science and Technology Park ( https://qstp.org.qa/ ), and Manateq ( https://www.manateq.qa/ ).

Specific sectors are not open for domestic or foreign competition, such as public transportation and fuel distribution and marketing. In such sectors, semi-public companies maintain a predominant role. Law 19/2006 for the Protection of Competition and Prevention of Monopolistic Practice established the Competition Protection and Anti-Monopoly Committee to receive complaints about anti-competition violations. The law protects against monopolistic behavior by entities outside the state if deemed to impact the Qatari market. The law also allows state institutions and government-owned companies absolute or predominant roles in some sectors.

Qatari laws permit international law firms with at least 15 years of continuous experience in their countries of origin to operate in Qatar; however, they can only be licensed if Qatari authorities deem their fields of specialization useful to Qatar. Cabinet Decision Number 57/2010 stipulates that the Doha office of an international law firm can practice in Qatar only if its main office in the country of origin remains open.

Under current legislation (Law 1/2019 and Law 16/2018), the government protects foreign investment and property from direct or indirect expropriation, unless for public benefit, in a non-discriminatory manner, and after providing adequate compensation. Law 13/1988 covers the rules of expropriation for public benefit. The same procedures are applied to the expropriated property of Qatari citizens. Expropriation is unlikely to occur in the investment zones where foreigners may purchase or obtain rights to property. However, the law does not restrict the expropriation power in these areas. There were two Cabinet-approved expropriation decisions in 2021 and one decision in 2020.

Two concurrent bankruptcy regimes exist in Qatar. The first is the local regime, set out in Commercial Law 27/2006 (Articles 606-846). The bankruptcy of a Qatari citizen or a Qatari-owned company is rarely announced. The law aims to protect creditors from a bankrupted debtor whose assets are insufficient to meet the amount of the debts. The government sometimes plays the role of the guarantor to prop up domestic businesses and safeguard creditors’ rights. Bankruptcy is punishable by imprisonment, but the length of the prison sentence depends on violations of other penal codes, such as concealment or destruction of company records, embezzlement, or knowingly contributing to insolvency. The second bankruptcy regime is encoded in QFC’s Insolvency Regulations of 2005 and applies to corporate bodies and branches registered within the QFC. Some firms offer full dissolution bankruptcy services to QFC-registered companies.

The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) established the Qatar Credit Bureau in 2010 to promote credit growth in Qatar. The Credit Bureau provides QCB and the banking sector with a centralized credit database to inform economic and financial policies and support the implementation of risk management techniques as outlined in the Basel II Accord.

4. Industrial Policies

Qatar does not impose a personal income tax and the new foreign investment law (Law 1/2019) offers a variety of other incentives to foreign investors, which may include the following:

  • Exemption from 10 percent corporate tax for up to 10 years.
  • Exemption from customs duties on imports of necessary machinery and equipment.
  • Exemption from customs duties on imports of raw materials or imports of half-manufactured goods necessary for production and not available in the local market.
  • Up to 100 percent foreign ownership and no limit on repatriation.

The legislation provides for the establishment of some industrial projects in designated industrial zones under the Qatar Free Zones Authority; those projects receive the following incentives:

  • Exemption from 10 percent corporate tax for up to 20 years.
  • Zero custom duties on imports.
  • Potential access to a $3 billion government-backed fund.
  • One hundred percent foreign ownership and no limit on repatriation.
  • Opportunities for joint ventures with local companies.
  • Possible access to a backed investment fund.

Qatar Energy determines the amount of foreign equity and the extent of incentives for industrial energy-related projects; Law 8/2018 regulates the process.

Qatar has several free zones and business facilitation options, namely the Qatar Financial Center, Qatar Science and Technology Park, and Qatar Free Zones Authority:

Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) is an onshore business platform that allows international financial institutions and professional service companies to establish offices in Qatar with 100 percent foreign ownership and full repatriation of profits. Locally sourced profits are subject to a 10 percent corporate tax. The QFC has an independent regulatory regime based on English common law. The QFC Regulatory Authority acts as the regulator for financial firms operating under QFC’s umbrella. The QFC Regulatory Tribunal and Qatar International Court hear and adjudicate cases. Judgments issued though these bodies are only of value if enforced by Qatari courts against persons and/or Qatar-based assets. Goldman Sachs International, Mastercard Gulf, Uber, and Oracle are among the companies registered with QFC.

The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is a hub designed to conduct research and development and facilitate expertise and technology transfer. The hub offers grants and incubators to foreign and local innovators. QSTP permits licensed foreign companies to own up to 100 percent and fully repatriate capital and income. Companies operating at the QSTP can import goods and services duty-free and export goods produced at the park tax-free. Firms operating at the park are also exempt from all taxes, including the 10 percent corporate tax. The property of these businesses cannot be seized under any circumstance, but capital and other cash may be seized on the orders of a local court. Microsoft, ExxonMobil, GE, Cisco, Cypher Learning, and ConocoPhillips are QSTP member companies.

The Qatar Free Zones Authority (QFZ) oversees two free zones in Qatar: Ras Bufontas near the country’s international airport and Um Alhoul adjacent to the country’s largest commercial seaport. Companies operating in these free zones are permitted 100 percent foreign ownership, corporate tax exemption for 20 years, full repatriation of profits, custom duties exemption on all imports, and a range of other incentives. Google, DHL, and Volkswagen are notable examples of multinational companies operating at the QFZ.

Law 12/2020 on Organizing the Partnership between the Public and Private Sector represents the government’s most recent attempt to attract foreign investors and develop the private sector.

There are no laws that obligate the private sector to hire Qatari nationals. Still, the public sector and institutions working closely with the government on projects and joint ventures (such as energy companies operating in Qatar) are required to hire Qatari nationals. Workforce localization policy (known as “Qatarization”) in the public sector is a central focus of the country’s National Vision 2030, and foreign investors wishing to operate wholly owned companies will be required to submit a Qatarization plan. In 2020, the Cabinet approved a new ministerial decree to mandate that Qataris make up at least 60 percent of the workforce of state-owned companies or companies where the government is a majority investor, and 80 percent of the human resources workforce. Children of Qatari women are considered Qataris for purposes of calculating this localization ratio. The government allocates visa slots for hiring nationals of specific countries based on preset quotas; such slots are non-transferable without obtaining approval from the Ministry of Labor.

While Qatar does not follow a forced localization policy, the government provides preferential treatment to suppliers that use local content in bids when competing for government contracts. The government of Qatar also gives a 10 percent price preference to goods produced with Qatari content. As a rule, participation in government tenders with a value of QAR 5,000,000 or less (equivalent to approximately $1.37 million) is limited to local contractors, suppliers, and merchants registered with the Qatar Chamber of Commerce. Tenders involving higher valuations do not, in theory, require any local commercial registration; however, in practice, certain exceptions exist.

In 2019, Qatar’s national oil and gas company, Qatar Energy, announced a localization initiative, Tawteen, which requires all suppliers and bidders to undergo an assessment by a third-party auditor to determine their In-Country Value (ICV) score. Qatar Energy and its subsidiary companies would assess bidders’ ICV scores in addition to technical and commercial criteria when evaluating bids. The formula for calculating a company’s ICV score can be found at https://www.tawteen.com.qa/In-Country-Value/ICV-Overview-(1) .

No specific performance requirements exist for Qatar-based foreign investment. While disclosure of financial and employment data is required, proprietary information is not. There are no known formalized requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to the authorities for surveillance. Cross-border data transmission is allowed in compliance with the law. Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority – established as an independent body by Amiri Decree 42/2014 – regulates the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Qatar was the first Gulf nation to enact a Data Protection Law 13/2016, which requires companies to comply with restrictions related to collecting, disclosing, and safekeeping of personal data. The regulator responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Law is the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

5. Protection of Property Rights

A set of laws, ministerial decrees, and resolutions make up the country’s jurisprudence on property rights and ownership. Law 16/2018 designates nine zones where foreign investors, companies, and real estate developers are permitted full property ownership. The law also allows foreign investors the usufructuary right of up to 99 years in 16 other zones. Additionally, foreigners may own villas within residential complexes and retail outlets in specific commercial complexes. The government grants non-Qatari real estate owners residency for as long as they own their properties. Meanwhile, Law 6/2014 regulates real estate development and stipulates that non-Qatari companies should have at least ten years of experience and be headquartered in Qatar to carry out real estate development activities at selected locations.

The Government of Qatar enforces property leasehold rights. Qatar’s Rent Law 4/2008 extends more protections to the lessee while regulating lessors. The government grants several enforceable rights to the lessee, including protection from rent hikes during the lease period and enforcement of the lease contract terms should the lessor transfer ownership. The government protects lessors against tenants’ violations of lease agreements. Qatar’s Leasing Dispute Settlement Committee enforces these regulations. The committee hears and issues binding decisions and requires all lessors to register their lease agreements with this committee.

The Ministry of Municipality oversees the preparation of all records related to the selling, leasing, waiver, and bequeathing of real estate. A reliable electronic database exists to check for encumbrances, including liens, mortgages, and restrictions, and keep all titles and deed records in digital format.

While Qatar’s intellectual property (IP) legal regime is still under development, it is robust and includes a wide range of legislation that protects different types of IP rights. Qatar’s IP legislation consists of the Trademark and Copyright Law (enacted in 2002), the Protection of Trade Secrets and Protection of Layout Design law (2005), the Patent Law (2006), and most recently, the Protection of Industrial Designs and Models law (2020). Qatar has signed many international IP treaties, and Qatari laws and regulations guarantee the implementation of those treaties. These laws grant foreign applicants the same rights as Qataris, provided they are nationals of a state that gives Qatar reciprocal treatment.

Intellectual property owners can apply for IP rights at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), which is mandated, by Law 20/2014, to enforce IP laws and regulations. An IP Protection Department has been set up with offices focusing on trademarks, copyrights, patents, industrial designs, and innovations within the ministry. The following are the periods of validity for the different types of registered IP:

Patents: Valid for 20 years from the date of filing.

The Ministry of Public Health requires the registration of all imported pharmaceutical products and rejects registration requests for unauthorized copies of products patented in other countries. Qatar also recognizes pre-existing GCC patents on pharmaceutical products.

The GCC Patent Office used to provide an affordable and efficient option for companies seeking intellectual property protection throughout the six GCC member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE). Effective January 2021, the office stopped accepting new patent filings. The decision now forces companies seeking patent registration in the GCC region to file separate applications in each country, pay six separate fees, and endure a substantial waiting period before their patents are registered in all six states.

Copyrights: Protected for 50 years after the author’s death.

Per Qatari law, failure to register at MOCI will not affect the protection of the copyright. While the law does not protect unpublished works and does not criminalize end-user piracy, Qatar is party to the Berne and Paris Conventions. It abides by their mandates regarding unpublished works. The IP Protection Department works with law enforcement authorities to prosecute unlicensed video and software resellers.

Trademarks: Valid for ten years but can be renewed indefinitely; trademarks unused for five consecutive years are subject to cancellation.

The GCC Customs Union approved a common trademark law; Qatar is taking steps to enact it.

Industrial Designs: Valid for five years from submission date but can be renewed two additional times.

This law covers the visual design rather than an original product’s functional or technical aspects. Law 10/2020 on the Protection of Industrial Designs was enacted in May 2020.

The law on Intellectual Property Border Protection (Law 17/2011) forbids the importation of any products that infringe on any intellectual property rights protected in Qatar and obligates the General Authority of Customs to take measures to prevent the entry of infringing products into Qatar. Given sufficient evidence, the law also permits IP rights holders to block the release of imported products that infringe on their rights. In 2017, the General Authority of Customs launched an electronic system to detect counterfeit goods coming into the country. The system is accredited by the World Customs Organization and has been introduced to limit the importation of counterfeit goods.

The United States Trade Representative Office (USTR) does not consider Qatar a market that engages in, turns a blind eye to, or benefits from piracy and counterfeit products. Qatar is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report. The existing Penal Code imposes hefty fines on individuals dealing in counterfeit products. It prescribes prison terms for offenders convicted of counterfeiting, imitating, fraudulently affixing, selling products, offering services of a registered trademark, or other IP violations. The General Authority of Customs, the MOCI Consumer Protection and IP Protection Departments, and the Ministry of Interior conduct surveys, search shops, and seize and destroy counterfeit products.

Qatar is a member of the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is a signatory of several WIPO treaties. For additional information on national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/. 

Companies and individuals seeking assistance on pursuing IP protections and enforcement claims in Qatar can consult a list of local attorneys posted on the U.S. Embassy Doha website: https://qa.usembassy.gov/legal-assistance/

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Regional IP Attaché
Peter C. Mehravari, Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Department of Commerce Foreign Commercial Service, U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
U.S. Embassy, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
+965 2259-1455
Peter.mehravari@trade.gov
Web: https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/ip-policy/intellectual-property-rights-ipr-attach-program/intellectual 

United States Trade Representative
IPR Director for the GCC
Jacob Ewerdt
+1-202-395-3866
Jacob.p.ewerdt@ustr.eop.gov
Web: http://www.ustr.gov 

6. Financial Sector

The Government of Qatar has permitted foreign portfolio investment since 2005. There are no restrictions on the flow of capital in Qatar. The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) adheres to conservative policies to maintain a stable banking sector. It respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments or transfers for international transactions. It allocates loans on market terms and treats foreign companies the same way it does local ones.

Existing legislation currently limits foreign ownership of Qatari companies listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange to 49 percent. In April 2021, the Cabinet approved a draft law (still pending implementation) that will allow full foreign ownership of the capital of listed companies. Foreign portfolio investment in national oil and gas companies or companies with the right to explore national resources cannot exceed 49 percent.

Almost all import transactions require standard letters of credit from local banks and their correspondent banks in the exporting countries. Financial institutions extend credit facilities to local and foreign investors within standard international banking practices. Creditors typically require foreign investors to produce a letter of guarantee from their local sponsor or equity partner.

Under QCB guidelines, banks operating in Qatar give priority to Qataris and public development projects in their financing operations. Additionally, banks usually refrain from extending credit facilities to single customers exceeding 20 percent of the bank’s capital and reserves. QCB does not allow cross-sharing arrangements among banks. QCB requires banks to maintain a maximum credit ratio of 90 percent.

The Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) was found in 1997, is a member of the World Federation of Exchanges, and was recently upgraded by MSCI and the S&P Dow Jones Indices. QSE has 43 listed companies and aims to include many other local SMEs in the mid-term. QSE has been appointed by the Qatar Central Bank as the main entity tasked with promoting Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting among listed companies.

Qatar has a comprehensive banking sector that offers conventional and Shariah-compliant products and services. The country’s banking sector is composed of 16 banks, 9 of which are Qatari banks, and the remaining 7 are foreign financial institutions. The industry is dominated by government-owned Qatar National Bank (QNB) which enjoys around 50% of domestic market share in total assets, loans, and deposits with smaller lenders competing for the remaining opportunities. Qatar also has a state-run Development Bank created to support local SMEs. Qatari banks are well capitalized with a low non-performing loans ratio that stood at 2.3% in 2020 and is expected to remain low in 2021. The GOQ has always supported its banking sector where necessary (recent examples include during the GCC rift in 2017 and COVID-19 pandemic in 2020) and is expected to continue to do so, given the country’s substantial resources. To open a bank account in Qatar, foreigners must present proof of residency and have a minimum salary of QAR 5000 ($1300).

The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) is the primary regulator of the financial sector in the country and governs both conventional and Shariah-compliant institutions. QCB manages liquidity by mandating a reserve ratio of 4.5 percent and utilizing treasury bonds, bills, and other macroprudential measures. Banks that do not abide by the required reserve ratio are penalized. QCB uses repurchase agreements backed by government securities to inject liquidity into the banks. According to QCB data, total domestic liquidity reached $170.1 billion in November 2021, and only two percent of Qatar’s bank loans in 2020 were nonperforming.

The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, was established in 2005 and is chaired by the Amir. The fund does not publicly disclose the size of its investments, but they are estimated to amount to $450 billion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute (SWFI). QIA pursued at first direct investments in luxury brands, prime real estate, and banks abroad. The fund is now looking for opportunities in healthcare, technology industry, and infrastructure investments. In 2015, QIA opened an office in New York City and is now on track to complete a $45 billion commitment of investments in the United States, in addition to a $10 billion that will be invested in infrastructure projects.

QIA’s real estate subsidiary, Qatari Diar, has operated an office in Washington, D.C., since 2014. QIA announced in May 2020 that it planned to increase its exposure in Asia and Africa, away from Europe, where the fund had invested heavily over the past decade. QIA has domestic investments including in Qatar National Bank (50%), the country’s largest lender by assets, Qatar Islamic Bank (16%) and flag carrier Qatar Airways (100%). The fund has also subsidiaries that invest locally in sports, hospitality and real estate development.

QIA was one of the early supporters of the Santiago Principles and among the few members who drafted the principles’ initial and final versions. It continues to be a proactive supporter of its implementation. QIA supported the establishment of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds and helped create the Forum’s constitution. QIA was also a founding member of the IMF-hosted International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The State Audit Bureau oversees state-owned enterprises (SOEs), several operating as monopolies or holding exclusive rights in most economic sectors. Despite the dominant role of SOEs in Qatar’s economy, the government has affirmed support for the local private sector. It encourages small and medium-sized enterprise development as part of its National Vision 2030. The Qatari private sector is favored in bids for local contracts and generally receives favorable terms for financing at local banks. The following are Qatar’s major SOEs:

Energy and Power:

Qatar Energy, its subsidiaries, and its partners operate all oil and gas activities in the country. The government wholly owns QE. Non-Qataris can invest in its stock exchange listed subsidiaries, but shareholder ownership is limited to two percent and total non-Qatari ownership to 49 percent.

Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa) is the sole utility provider in the country and is majority-owned by Qatari government entities. To privatize the sector, the Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC) was established in 2001 as a separate and private provider that sells its desalinated water and electricity to Kahramaa. Other privatization efforts included the Ras Laffan Power Company, based in 2001, and 55 percent owned by a U.S. company.

Aerospace:

Qatar Airways is the country’s national carrier and is wholly owned by the state.

Services:

Qatar General Postal Corporation is a state-owned postal company. Several other delivery companies compete in the courier market, including Aramex, DHL Express, and FedEx Express.

Information and Communication:

Ooredoo Group is a telecommunications company founded in 2013. Ooredoo (previously known as Q-Tel) dominates both the cell and landline telecommunications markets in Qatar and partners with telecommunications companies in 13 Middle East, North Africa, and Asia markets. It is the dominant player in the Qatari telecommunications market and is 70 percent owned by Qatari government entities. Ooredoo Group is listed on the Qatari Stock Exchange.

Vodafone Qatar is Qatar’s only other telecommunications operator, with the quasi-governmental entity Qatar Foundation owning 62 percent of its shares. Other Qatari government entities and Qatar-based investors own the remaining 38 percent. Vodafone Qatar is listed on the Qatari Stock Exchange.

Qatari SOEs may adhere to their own corporate governance codes and are not required to follow the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance. Some SOEs publish online corporate governance reports to encourage transparency, but there is no general framework for corporate governance across all Qatari SOEs. SOEs listed on the stock exchange must publish financial statements at least 15 days before annual general meetings in two local newspapers (in Arabic and English) and on their websites. When an SOE is involved in an investment dispute, the case is reviewed by the appropriate sector regulator (for example, the Communications Regulatory Authority for the information and communication sector).

There is no ongoing official privatization program for major SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general awareness in Qatar of responsible business conduct. Many companies publicize their Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the majority of which cover environmental issues as well. Qatar participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an economy dependent on extractive industries. Nonetheless, the Qatari government has not improved transparency regarding its petroleum industry management, as no regulatory body oversees resources extraction or revenue management. Moreover, Qatar has no freedom of information law.

The Government of Qatar maintains a reporting regime for suspicious transactions and requirements for consumer due diligence and record-keeping. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has a dedicated Consumer Protection and Combating Commercial Fraud Department, which has intensified its efforts by monitoring records and inspection of stores and factories that sell or manufacture counterfeit goods. The ministry prosecutes business misconduct and announces these violations publicly.

Qatari law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and reserves two percent of jobs in government agencies and public institutions for persons with disabilities. The law also prohibits the employment of children under 16 years of age. The Ministry of Labor (MOL), the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conduct training sessions for migrant laborers to inform them of their rights while in Qatar. In 2018, the United States and Qatar signed a government-to-government memorandum of understanding on exchanging expertise and fostering capacity building on combating human trafficking. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor and MOL signed a Memorandum of Understanding on labor, focusing on labor inspections and protecting domestic workers’ rights in Qatar.

Some Qatari non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focus on labor rights and often work with the government. Researchers from international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to visit and report on labor developments in the country with limited interference from authorities. International labor NGOs have been able to send researchers to Qatar under the sponsorship of academic institutions and quasi-governmental organizations such as the NHRC. Global media and human rights organizations continue to allege numerous abuses against foreign workers, including forced or compulsory labor, withheld wages, unsafe working conditions, and poor living accommodations.

Private security companies cannot operate in Qatar without an appropriate license granted by the MOI, per Law 19/2009 on Regulating the Provision of Private Security Services. As of 2009, Qatar has been a signatory to the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

In October 2021, the Government of Qatar launched its National Environment and Climate Change Strategy. National environmental goals included achieving 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, reaching net-zero emissions by 2060, conserving over 25 percent of the land, restoring marine biodiversity, reducing groundwater abstraction by 60 percent, promoting 100 percent use of recycled water, requiring 30 percent recycled material use in public infrastructure procurement, and increasing the rate of recycling of municipal waste to 15 percent and construction waste to 35 percent.

Sustainability has been a focus of Qatar’s National Development Strategy 2018-2022 and an important component of the Qatar National Vision 2030. Qatar requires all projects in the industrial, agricultural, urban development, and infrastructural sectors to acquire environmental impact assessments from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, which was established in October 2021. As of February 2022, the government stopped extending additional incentives for companies that adopt environmental conservation measures. Law 30/2002 is the primary legislation protecting the environment. It prohibits polluting equipment, machinery, and vehicles and restricts the dumping and treatment of liquid or solid wastes to certain designated areas. The law also limits emissions of harmful vapors, gases, and smoke by the energy sector. Despite these initiatives, Qatar suffers from ecological threats such as water insecurity, temperature anomalies, and air pollution.

9. Corruption

Corruption in Qatar does not generally affect the conduct of business, although the power of personal connections plays a significant role in business culture. Qatar ranked as the second least corrupt country in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, and ranked 31st out of 180 nations globally with a score of 63 out of 100, with 100 indicating full transparency.

Qatari law imposes criminal penalties to combat corruption by public officials, and the government actively implements these laws. Corruption and misuse of public money are a focus of the executive office. Law 22/2015 imposes hefty penalties for corrupt officials. Decree 6/2015 restructured the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority, granting it juridical responsibility, a budget, and direct affiliation with the Amir’s office. The authority’s objectives are to prevent corruption and ensure that ministries and public employees operate with transparency. Transparency is also mandated when investigating alleged crimes against public property or finances perpetrated by public officials.

Law 11/2016 grants the State Audit Bureau more financial authority and independence, allowing it to publish parts of its findings (provided that confidential information is removed), a power it did not previously have. Individuals convicted of embezzlement are subject to prison terms of no less than five and up to ten years. The penalty can be extended to a minimum term of seven and a maximum term of fifteen years if the perpetrator happens to be a public official in charge of collecting taxes or exercising fiduciary responsibilities over public funds. Qatar State Security Bureau and the Office of the Public Prosecutor handle investigations of alleged corruption charges. The Criminal Court makes final judgments.

Bribery is a crime in Qatar, and the law imposes penalties on public officials convicted of acting in return for monetary or personal gain and on other parties who take actions to influence or attempt to influence a public official through monetary or other means. The current Penal Code (Law 11/2004) governs corruption regulations and stipulates that individuals convicted of bribery may be sentenced up to ten years in prison and fines amounts equal to the amount of the bribe but no less than $1,374.

To promote a fairer, more transparent, and more expeditious public-sector tendering process, the government issued Procurement Law 24/2015, which abolished the Central Tendering Committee and established in its stead a Procurement Department within the Ministry of Finance that has oversight over most government tenders. The new department has an online portal that consolidates all government tenders and provides relevant information to interested bidders, facilitating the process for foreign investors ( https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa ).

Qatar is not a party to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. However, Qatar ratified the UN Convention for Combating Corruption (by Amiri Decree 17/2007) and established a National Committee for Integrity and Transparency (by Amiri Decree 84/2007). The permanent committee is headed by the Chairman of the State Audit Bureau. In 2013, Qatar opened the Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law Center in Doha in partnership with the United Nations. The center’s purpose is to support, promote, and disseminate legal principles to fight corruption (https://rolacc.qa/).

Despite these efforts, some American businesses cite a lack of transparency in government procurement and customs as recurring issues when operating in the Qatari market. U.S. investors and Qatari nationals who happen to be agents of U.S. firms are subject to the provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The Administrative Control and Transparency Authority is also responsible for receiving transparency-related complaints within the public sector:

Administrative Control and Transparency Authority
Al Bida St., Al Dafna, Doha, PO Box: 25558
974 44305220, +974 44305222, and +974 44069909
info@acta.gov.qa
To file complaints: http://actadev.wpengine.com/en/complaints/ 

10. Political and Security Environment

Qatar is a politically stable country with low rates of crime. There are no political parties, labor unions, or organized domestic political opposition. The U.S government rates Qatar as a medium risk country for terrorism, including threats from transnational actors.

The State Department encourages U.S. citizens in Qatar to stay in close contact with the U.S. Embassy in Doha for up-to-date threat information. The Department invites U.S. visitors to Qatar to enroll in its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive further information on safety conditions in Qatar: https://step.state.gov/step/.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Qatar has one of the world’s highest migrant workers to indigenous population ratios, with foreigners making up nearly 90 percent of the country’s population. Qatar’s resident population is estimated at 2.78 million as of January 2022, doubling in the last decade. Qatari citizens are estimated to number approximately 300,000 – around 11 percent of the total population. Qatar’s labor force consists primarily of expatriate workers. The largest group of foreign workers comes from the Indian sub-continent.

Males make up around 72 percent of the population. As of the second quarter of 2021, about 60 percent of the female population aged 15 years and above were economically active, compared to 95 percent of males. However, local statistics may not fully account for all employed females as calculations as primarily based on residency statuses, which are family, not employment-based for most migrant females.

Qatar’s unemployment rates are among the lowest globally, with a 0.1 percent unemployment rate for men and a 0.5 percent unemployment rate for women, as of 2021. The government mandates that Qataris make up at least 60 percent of the employees of state-owned enterprises or companies where the government is a majority investor and 80 percent of those entities’ human resources workforce. Children of Qatari women are considered Qataris for purposes of calculating this localization ratio. Over three-quarters of employed Qatari citizens work for the government.

The Ministry of Labor (MOL) regulates the recruitment of expatriate labor. Labor Law 14/2004 largely governs employment in Qatar and allows the terminating party to terminate employment without providing reasons. The law requires employers to pay employees owed wages and other benefits in full, provided they have performed expected work duties during the notice period, which varies based on years of employment. The English common law governs companies registered with QFC, and labor issues are administered by QFC’s Regulation 10/2006.

There are no labor unions in Qatar. Non-citizens are not eligible to form worker committees or go on strike. However, according to an agreement between MOL and the International Labor Organization (ILO), joint worker committees including 50-50 representation of workers and employers exist in a small number of cases for all medium to large-sized companies. Law 12/2004 on Private Associations and Foundations and subsequent regulations grant Qatari citizens the right to form workers’ committees in private enterprises with more than 100 Qatari citizen workers. Qatari citizens employed in the private sector also have the right to participate in approved strikes. Still, the restrictive conditions imposed by the law make the likelihood of an approved strike remote. Regardless of nationality, individuals working in the public sector are prohibited from joining unions. Workers at labor camps occasionally go on strike over non-payment or delayed wages; however, this practice is technically illegal.

Local courts handle disputes between workers and employers, but the process is widely regarded as inefficient. To speed up the process of resolving labor disputes, the government established Labor Disputes Settlement Committees headed by a judge and representatives from MOL. As of 2018, there are three such committees, all of which operate outside of the traditional Supreme Judicial Committee structure and are required to address any complaints within three weeks.

Law 17/2020 sets the minimum basic wage for workers and domestic workers at $275 per month and $220 for lodging and meals if not provided by the employer. To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, the government issued Law 1/2015, amending specific provisions of Labor Law 14/2004 on wage protection and mandating electronic payment to all employees subject to the local labor law. The government requires all employers to open bank accounts for their employees and pay wages electronically through a system subject to audits by an inspection division at the MOL; this requirement, however, does not apply to domestic workers. Employers who fail to pay their workers face penalties between $550 and $1,650 per case and possible prison sentences. Those penalties, however, are rarely implemented. The system currently applies to over 1.4 million workers.

The Labor Law prohibits the employers’ withholding of workers’ passports and stiffens penalties for transgressors. To eliminate forced labor, the government issued Law 19/2020, enabling employees to switch employers without requiring the employer’s permission. This new legislation complimented Law 13/2018, allowing workers covered by the Labor Law to leave the country without requiring exit permits.

To protect workers from fraudulent employment contracts, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) established the Qatar Visa Centers (QVCs) to simplify residency procedures for expatriate workers from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. In partnership with MOI and MOL, contracted companies set up QVCs in these countries to facilitate biometric enrollment, medical records verification, and work contracts before contracted workers enter Qatar.

Qatar is a member of the ILO and maintains that its labor law meets ILO minimum requirements. In 2017, Qatar made commitments to address some ILO complaints by launching a comprehensive three-year ILO technical cooperation program. In 2018, the ILO opened a Doha office.

In 2018, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs signed a labor-related MOU with the Department of State during the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. The MOU laid out plans for cooperation in combating trafficking-in-persons, including strengthening the labor sector to reduce instances of forced labor. In 2019, MOL signed an MOU with the U.S. Department of Labor to enhance cooperation in labor inspection and protecting domestic workers’ rights.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy, Doha
22nd February Street, Al Luqta District, P.O. Box 2399, Doha, Qatar
+974-4496-6000
EskandarGA@state.gov

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