1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
In pursuit of its National Vision 2030, the government of Qatar has enacted reforms to incentivize foreign investment in the economy. As Qatar finalizes major infrastructure developments in preparation for hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the government has allocated USD 13.2 billion for new, non-oil sector projects in its FY2019 budget. The government also plans to increase LNG production by 43 percent by 2024. Significant investment in the upstream and downstream sectors is expected. In February 2019, national oil company Qatar Petroleum announced a localization initiative, Tawteen, which will provide incentives to local and foreign investors willing to establish domestic manufacturing facilities for approximately 100 oil and gas sector inputs. These economic spending plans create significant opportunities for foreign investors.
In 2019, the government enacted a new foreign investment law (Law 1/2019) to ease restrictions on foreign investment. The law permits full foreign ownership of businesses in most sectors with full repatriation of profits, protection from expropriation, and several other benefits. Excepted sectors include banking, insurance, and commercial agencies, where foreign capital investment remains limited at 49 percent, barring special dispensation from the Cabinet. Qatar’s primary foreign investment promotion and evaluation body is the Invest in Qatar Center within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The government is currently in the process of publishing regulations for the implementation of the new law; pending these new regulations, the old law still applies (Law 13/2000). Qatar is also home to the Qatar Financial Centre, Qatar Science and Technology Park, and the Qatar Free Zones, all of which offer full foreign ownership and repatriation of profits, tax incentives, and investment funds for small- and medium-sized enterprises.
In accordance with Law 24/2015, which was enacted to increase transparency of available investment opportunities, the Qatari government streamlined its procurement processes and the Ministry of Finance launched an online procurement portal to consolidate information on government tenders. The procurement portal can be accessed via this link: https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa
When competing for government contracts, preferential treatment is given to suppliers who use local content in their bids. To further boost local production amid an economic and political rift with neighboring Gulf countries, the government announced in October 2017 that it will favor bids that use Qatari products that meet necessary specifications and obey tender rules. Participation in tenders with a value of Qatari riyal (QAR) 5 million or less (USD 1.37 million) is confined to local contractors, suppliers, and merchants registered by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Higher-value tenders sometimes do not require any local commercial registration to participate, but in practice certain exceptions exist.
Qatar maintains ongoing dialogue with the United States through both official and private sector tracks, including through the annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue and official trade missions undertaken in cooperation with both nations’ chambers of commerce. Qatari officials have repeatedly emphasized their desire to increase both American investments in Qatar and Qatari investments in the United States.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The government has recently reformed its foreign investment legal framework. As noted above, full foreign ownership is now permitted in all sectors with the exception of banking, insurance and commercial agencies. Law 1/2019 on Regulating the Investment of Non-Qatari Capital in Economic Activity (replacing Law 13/2000) stipulates that foreigners can invest in Qatar either through partnership 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. The Invest in Qatar Center within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is the entity responsible for vetting full foreign ownership applications. The law includes provisions on the protection of foreign investment from expropriation, the exemption of some foreign investment projects from income tax and customs duties, and the right to transfer profits and ownership without delay.
Another recent foreign investment reform is Law 16/2018 on Regulating Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Properties, which allows foreign individuals, companies, and real estate developers freehold ownership of real estate in 10 designated zones and usufructuary rights up to 99 years in 16 other zones. Foreigners may also own villas within residential complexes, as well as retail outlets in certain commercial complexes. Foreign real estate investors and owners will be granted residency in Qatar for as long as they own their property. The Committee on Non-Qatari Ownership and Use of Real Estate, formed in December 2018 under the Ministry of Justice, is the regulator of non-Qatari real estate ownership and use.
There are also other FDI incentives in the country provided by the Qatar Financial Centre, the Qatar Free Zones, and the Qatar Science and Technology Park. A draft Public-Private Partnership law to facilitate direct foreign investment in national infrastructure development (currently focused on schools, hospitals, and drainage networks) was approved by the Cabinet on April 4, 2019, and is currently pending the Amir’s final review.
U.S. investors and companies are not any more disadvantaged by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms relative to other foreign investors.
For more information on FDI in Qatar, visit:
- Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Invest in Qatar Center: https://invest.gov.qa
- Qatar Financial Centre: http://www.qfc.qa/
- Qatar Free Zones Authority: https://fza.gov.qa/
- Qatar Science and Technology Park: https://qstp.org.qa/
- Qatar Petroleum Tawteen Program: https://www.tawteen.com.qa/
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Qatar underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) policy review in April 2014. 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 submission of a complete application, the Ministry will issue its decision within 15 days. Rejected application can be resubmitted or appealed. For more information on the application and required documentation, visit: https://invest.gov.qa
The World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report estimates that registering a small-size limited liability company in Qatar takes seven to eight days. For detailed information on business registration procedures, as evaluated by the World Bank, visit: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/qatar/
Qatar does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. According to the latest foreign investment survey from the Planning and Statistics Authority, Qatar’s outward foreign investment stock reached USD 105.8 billion in the third quarter of 2018. In 2017, sectors that accounted for most of Qatar’s outward FDI were finance and insurance (40 percent of total), transportation, storage, information and communication (33 percent), and mining and quarrying (18 percent). As of 2017, Qatari investment firms held investments in about 80 countries; the top destinations were the European Union (34 percent of total), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, 24 percent), and other Arab countries (14 percent).
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
Qatar has 56 bilateral investment treaties (BITs), according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Twenty-two BITs are in force, namely with Belarus, Belgium, Luxembourg, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Iran, Italy, Jordan, South Korea, Montenegro, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey. The most recent BIT was signed with Rwanda in November 2018, but has not yet come into force. A full list of current BITs with the State of Qatar can be found at: http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/171
While Qatar has not entered into a bilateral investment or trade treaty with the United States, the two nations established a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2004. Additionally, as part of the GCC, Qatar has signed 12 treaties with investment provisions (TIPs), including one between the GCC and the United States in 2012, but this treaty has not yet entered into force. The United States and Qatar hold an annual high-level Strategic Dialogue, through which the two governments discuss matters related to trade and investment cooperation.
Qatar does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States. In January 2015, Qatar became the first GCC country to sign a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) intergovernmental agreement with the United States. In total, Qatar has over 58 agreements for the Avoidance of Double Taxation, including, most recently, with Ghana (November 2018) and Paraguay (March 2018).
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 a period of up to 10 years.
- Allocation of land by way of a renewable rent for a period of up to 50 years.
- Exemption from customs duties on the imports of necessary machinery and equipment.
- Exemption from customs duties on imports of raw materials or half-manufactured goods necessary for production and not available in the local market, for industrial projects.
Some industrial projects can be established in designated industrial zones governed by the Qatar Free Zones Authority, and are offered the following incentives:
- Exemption from 10 percent corporate tax for a period of up to 20 years.
- Zero custom duties on imports.
- Potential access to a USD 3 billion government-backed fund.
The Ministry of Energy Affairs determines the amount of foreign equity and the extent of incentives for industrial projects, as stipulated by Law 8/2018.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Qatar has several free zones and business facilitation options:
Qatar Financial Centre
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 its own independent regulatory regime based on English common law. The QFC Regulatory Authority acts as the regulator for financial firms operating in the QFC. The QFC Regulatory Tribunal and Qatar International Court hear and adjudicate cases, though these bodies’ judgments are only of value if enforced by Qatari courts against persons and assets in Qatar. Goldman Sachs International, Mastercard Gulf, Uber, and Oracle are among the companies registered with QFC.
Qatar Science and Technology Park
The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is a hub designed to undertake research and development and facilitate the transfer of expertise and technology. The hub offers grants and incubators to foreign and local innovators. Licensed foreign companies are permitted 100 percent ownership and full capital and income repatriation benefits. Companies operating at the QSTP can import goods and services duty free and export goods produced in the park are tax-free. Firms at the park are also exempt from all taxes, including the 10 percent income 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, and ConocoPhillips are among QSTP member companies.
In 2018, the government created an independent Free Trade Zone Authority to oversee free zones in Qatar and offer opportunities and benefits to investors. The Authority currently administers two such free trade zones: Ras Bufontas near the country’s international airport and Um Alhoul adjacent to the country’s largest commercial seaport. Additionally, in 2011, Qatar established Manateq, a state-owned company affiliated with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, to manage and develop economic zones. Manateq has oversight of one special economic zone (Al Karaana), four logistic parks (Jery Al Samur, Al Wakra, Birkat Al Awamer and Aba Saleel), four warehousing parks (Bu Fesseela, Bu Sulba, Umm Shaharaine 1 and Umm Shaharaine 2) and one industrial zone (Mesaieed).
In the last two years, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has also aimed to introduce a public-private partnership (PPP) law to further attract foreign investors. The draft law is currently under judicial review.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
There are no laws that obligate the private sector to hire Qatari nationals, but the public sector and institutions working closely with the government on projects and joint ventures are required to hire Qatari nationals—these notably include energy companies operating in Qatar. Nonetheless, this manpower localization policy (known as “Qatarization”) in the public sector is a main focus of the country’s National Vision 2030 and foreign investors wishing to operate fully-owned companies will be required to submit a “Qatarization” plan. Employers are allocated visa slots for the hiring of specific nationalities and such positions are non-transferable without approval of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs.
While Qatar does not follow a forced localization policy, when competing for government contracts, preferential treatment is given to suppliers that use local content in bids. Goods produced with Qatari content are also given a 10 percent price preference. As a rule, participation in government tenders with a value of QAR 5,000,000 or less (equivalent to USD 1,373,626) are confined to local contractors, suppliers, and merchants registered by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce, and tenders with a value of more than this amount do not require any local commercial registration to participate, but in practice certain exceptions exist.
In February 2019, national oil company Qatar Petroleum announced a localization initiative, Tawteen, which, among other things, will require all suppliers for Qatar Petroleum and its subsidiaries, as well as bidders for select contracts, to be assessed by a third-party auditor to determine their In-Country Value (ICV) score. Qatar Petroleum and its subsidiary companies will assess the ICV score in addition to technical and commercial criteria when evaluating bidders. The formula for calculating a company’s ICV score may be found here: https://www.tawteen.com.qa/In-Country-Value-Policy/ICV-Formula-Calculation
Performance requirements for foreign investment in Qatar do not exist. Disclosure of financial and employment data is required, but proprietary information is not.
There are no known formalized requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance. Information and communications technology is regulated by Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority, established as an independent body by Amiri Decree 42/2014, under the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Qatar is the first Arab Gulf nation to enact a Data Protection Law 13/2016, which obliges companies to comply with restrictions relating to the collection, disclosure, and safekeeping of personal data. The regulator responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Law is the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness in Qatar of responsible business conduct. In 2007, Qatar created the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Network, a research and reporting entity that publishes annual reports highlighting best practices and honoring CSR leaders in the country. Many companies in Qatar publicize their CSR policies.
Sustainability is the focus of the National Development Strategy 2018-2022, released in March 2018; it is also an important goal of the National Vision 2030. Law 30/2002 is the main legislation protecting the environment. It prohibits the use of polluting equipment, machineries, 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 in the energy sector. This applies to all companies working in exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has a dedicated Consumer Protection and Combating Commercial Fraud Department which has intensified its efforts in recent years by increasing the monitoring of records and inspection of stores and factories that sell or manufacture counterfeit goods. The Ministry prosecutes violators when business misconduct is detected or reported and announces these violations publicly.
The Government of Qatar maintains a reporting regime for suspicious transactions and requirements for consumer due diligence and record keeping.
As an economy dependent on extractive industries, Qatar participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Nonetheless, the Qatari government has not improved transparency regarding its management of the petroleum industry, as no regulatory body oversees resources extraction or revenue management. Moreover, Qatar has no freedom of information law.
With regard to labor and human rights, 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 employment of children under 16 years old. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs (MADLSA); the Ministry of Interior; and the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) conduct training sessions for migrant laborers to educate them on their rights in the country. International 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. In January 2018, the United States and Qatar signed a government-level memorandum of understanding to exchange expertise and foster capacity building in combating human trafficking. In March 2019, the Department of Labor and MADLSA signed an MOU on labor, which focuses on two pillars: labor inspections and protecting domestic workers’ rights in Qatar.
Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Qatar focus on labor rights and often work in conjunction with the government. Researchers from international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to visit and report on 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.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
According to the World Bank’s Migration & Remittances Fact Book 2016, Qatar has the world’s highest level of migrant workers relative to population, with foreigners making up around 90 percent of the country’s population. Qatar’s labor force consists primarily of expatriate workers. In the private sector, foreigners make up over 95 percent of the labor force per statistics from the country’s Planning and Statistics Authority. Qatar’s resident population is estimated at 2.7 million as of February 2019, doubling in the last decade. Qatari citizens are estimated to number approximately 300,000 – 11 percent of the total population. The largest group of foreign workers comes from the Indian sub-continent. Men make up more than 75 percent of the population, while unskilled and limited-skilled labor makes up around 66 percent of the population.
Unemployment rates in Qatar are among the lowest in the world, with 0.1 percent unemployment rate for men and 0.4 percent unemployment rate for women as of December 2018. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs (MADLSA) regulate recruitment of expatriate labor.
Labor Law 14/2004 largely governs employment in Qatar and stipulates that employment may be terminated without any reason being given by the terminating party. The effect of termination will be for the employer to pay the employee his wages and other benefits due to him in full, provided that the employee performs work as usual during the notice period, which varies depending on years of employment. Companies registered with Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) are governed by English common law, and labor issues are administered by QFC’s Regulation 10/2006. The rules that govern recruitment and immigration of QFC employees differ from those that govern other expatriate employees in the country.
Labor Law 12/2004 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 strike, but the restrictive conditions imposed by the law make the likelihood of an approved strike remote. There are no labor unions in the country. Non-citizens are not eligible to form worker committees or strike, though according to an agreement signed between the MADLSA and the International Labor Organization (ILO), joint worker committees including 50-50 representation of workers and employers are planned for all medium to large-sized companies. Those working in the government sector, regardless of nationality, are prohibited from joining unions. Over three-quarters of Qatari citizens are employed by the government.
In November 2017, the MADLSA issued a ministerial decree to set a temporary minimum wage of USD 195 per month. Local courts handle disputes between workers and employers though the process is widely regarded as inefficient. Recently, in an effort to speed up the process of resolving labor disputes, the government created new Labor Disputes Settlement Committees headed by a judge and representatives from the MADLSA. As of March 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.
To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, the government issued Law 1/2015 amending certain provisions of Labor Law 14/2004 on wage protection and mandating electronic payment to all employees subject to the local labor law. The law notably does not cover domestic workers. 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 MADLSA. Employers who fail to pay their workers faced penalties of USD 550 – USD 1,650 per case and possible prison sentences. The system currently covers over 1.4 million workers.
In an effort to eliminate forced labor, the government issued reforms to the sponsorship system through Law 21/2015 to allow employees to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. In September 2018, Qatar passed Law 13/2018 to allow most workers – those covered by the Labor Law – to leave the country without exit permits from their employers. Employers still have the right to require up to five percent of their workforce to request permission to leave, after submitting their names to the MADLSA with justifications based on the nature of their work. However, this reform does not cover domestic workers. The law prohibits the practice of employers withholding workers’ passports and increases penalties for employers who continue this practice. A further loosening of these restrictions is expected, given the three-year technical agreement signed with the ILO in November 2017 to address weaknesses in Qatar’s labor oversight and recruitment system.
To protect workers from fraudulent employment contracts, the Ministry of Interior signed an agreement with a Singaporean company in November 2017 to establish Qatar Visa Centers (QVCs) with the aim to simplify residency procedures for expat workers from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Tunisia (workers from these countries constitute 80 percent of Qatar’s workforce). In cooperation with both MOI and MADLSA, the contracted company established QVCs in these countries to facilitate biometric enrollment, medical records verification, and the signing of work contracts before these workers enter Qatar. To date, QVCs have been established in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.
Qatar is a member of the ILO and claims that its labor law meets ILO minimum requirements. In November 2017, Qatar made commitments to address some ILO complaints by launching a comprehensive three-year ILO technical cooperation program in Qatar.
In January 2018, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs signed an MOU with the U.S. Department of State during the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue. The MOU lays out plans for cooperation in combating trafficking in persons including strengthening the labor sector to reduce instances of forced labor. In March 2019, the MADLSA signed a new MOU with the US Department of Labor to enhance cooperation in the fields of labor inspection and protecting domestic workers rights.
12. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has not maintained a presence in Qatar since 1995. Qatar is a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
|Host Country Statistical Source*||USG or International Statistical Source||USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2017||$166,929||2017||$166,928||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical Source*||USG or International Statistical Source||USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$8,297||2017||$8,183||BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data|
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||N/A||N/A||2017||$2,255||BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data|
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2017||21.5%||2017||20.1%||UNCTAD data available at https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx|
* Source for Host Country Data: Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
|Direct Investment From/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$35,852||100%||Total Outward||$40,357||100%|
|Other American Countries||$12,802||36%||European Union||$13,764||34%|
|European Union||$10,549||29%||Gulf Cooperation Council||$9.808||24%|
|United States of America||$8,297||23%||Other Arab Countries||$5,632||14%|
|Asia (excluding Gulf Cooperation Council)||$1,758||5%||Other Asian Countries||$3,269||8%|
* Source: 2017 Data form Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/
14. Contact for More Information
22nd February Street, Al Luqta District, P.O. Box 2399, Doha, Qatar