Qatar

Executive Summary

The State of Qatar is the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has the highest per capita income in the world. In recent years, Qatar has had one of the fastest growing economies in the world, though lower energy prices have produced a relative decline in growth. Amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, which began in June 2017, the International Monetary Fund estimates Qatar’s real gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 3.1 percent in 2018. In the context of lower hydrocarbon prices, Qatar is expecting its third budget deficit in fifteen years in 2018, partly due to the government’s decision to maintain high levels of government spending in pursuit of its National Vision 2030 development plan. To offset the deficit, the government has raised and will continue to raise debt internationally. In contrast to other oil- and gas-dependent economies, Qatar’s current LNG supply contracts and relatively low production costs have largely shielded the economy from the impact of depressed energy prices.

The government remains the dominant actor in Qatar’s economy, though it encourages private investment in many sectors and continues to take steps to encourage more foreign investment. The dominant driver of Qatar’s economy remains the oil and gas sector, which has attracted tens of billions of dollars in foreign direct investment (FDI). In adherence with the country’s National Vision 2030 plan to establish an advanced, knowledge-based, and diversified economy, the government is in the process of introducing reforms to its foreign investment laws to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses in most sectors.

There are significant opportunities for foreign investment in infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, energy, and financial services, in addition to other sectors. Qatar’s 2018 budgetary spending is focused, in particular, on infrastructure, health, education, manufacturing, and transportation. By value of inward FDI stock, oil and gas downstream manufacturing, transportation, and marketing remain the primary sectors that attract most foreign investment to Qatar. Qatar provides various incentives to local and foreign investors. Qatar was ranked first globally by the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report for its taxation regime. The corporate tax rate is 10 percent and there is no personal income tax. The government has stated its intention to implement, as part of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-wide initiatives, a value-added tax (VAT) and excise taxes on luxury items and products harmful to human health–such as tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, and energy drinks. The timing of the implementation of these taxes has yet to be formally announced.

The government has created a regulatory regime to curb corruption and anti-competitive practices. In 2016, Qatar streamlined its procurement processes and created an online portal for all government tenders in an effort to improve transparency.

In recent years, Qatar has begun to invest heavily in the United States through its sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), and its subsidiaries, notably Qatari Diar. QIA’s current strategy for the United States includes at least USD 45 billion allocated for investments in various sectors over five years. QIA opened an office in New York City in September 2015 to help facilitate these investments, and plans to open a second office in California in 2018.

The United States and Qatar launched the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue in January 2018 in Washington, D.C. to further strengthen their bilateral strategic and economic partnership and help address obstacles to investment and trade. The second round of strategic talks are planned to take place in Qatar in 2019. The U.S.-Qatar Economic and Investment Dialogue (EID), which launched in 2016, has been folded into the annual Strategic Dialogue.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 29 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2017 83 of 190 doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2017 49 of 127 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 USD 8,737 http://www.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2015 USD 75,660 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Qatar is undergoing major infrastructure developments as it prepares for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and pursues its National Vision 2030 plan. The government announced its intent to spend USD 55.8 billion in FY2018, nearly half of which (USD 25.5 billion) will be spent on projects associated with the World Cup. Health, education, and transportation are allocated USD 22.9 billion in 2018, in addition to the awarding of potential contracts to the private sector worth USD 8 billion. These economic spending plans create significant business opportunities for foreign investors.

In April 2017, Qatar lifted a self-imposed moratorium on increasing natural gas production for export, and in July 2017, the government announced it would boost production by 30 percent by 2023. Significant investment in the upstream and downstream sectors is expected. Nonetheless, diversification of economic revenue sources is a priority; Qatar also has a focus on the National Vision 2030 and the 2018-2022 National Development Strategy.

The government is actively looking for ways to incentivize foreign and private sector investments and encourage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to participate in the economy. The Qatar Financial Centre, which aims to help local and foreign firms incorporate and do business within Qatar, was founded in 2005 to cater primarily to financial services firms but has broadened to include companies providing non-financial services as well. The Qatar Financial Centre offers a specialized regulatory, tax, and business infrastructure which allows 100 percent foreign ownership, 100 percent repatriation of profits, and charges a competitive rate of 10 percent corporate tax on locally-sourced products. Qatar’s investment liberalization policies are nonetheless proceeding gradually, partly due to a desire to protect local companies from competition. On January 3, 2018, the Cabinet announced its approval of a draft legislation that allows full foreign direct ownership in most sectors, a measure intended to attract foreign capital and investment into the country.

Qatar’s main investment oversight bodies are the Cabinet, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce’s Business Development and Investment Promotion Department is the primary entity responsible for setting policies on attracting foreign investment and raising awareness of investment opportunities.

In accordance with Law 24/2015, which aimed to increase the 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://www.mof.gov.qa/en/Pages/Government-Procurement-Services.aspx .

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. As a rule, participation in tenders with a value of 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 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, e.g., 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

Current legislation (Law 13/2000) stipulates that foreign investors in most sectors can operate in Qatar only in partnership with a Qatari entity owning at least 51 percent of the enterprise in question. Certain exceptions can be made, pending approval from the Cabinet, in the following sectors: agriculture, industry, health, education, tourism, development and exploitation of natural resources, energy and mining, consulting, cultural, sport and entertainment services, and distribution services. Necessary investment approvals may be required from the Ministry of Public Health, Qatar Tourism Authority, Ministry of Municipality and Environment, and Ministry of Economy and Commerce.

Non-Qatari investors are, for the most part, prohibited from investing in the financial services and real estate, outside of some exempted areas. However, many foreign financial services firms are active in Qatar through the onshore business platform offered by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC).

The government is currently in the process of approving reforms to the current foreign investment legal framework. These new reforms promise to allow 100 percent foreign capital investment in most sectors, with the exception of real estate. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce is also drafting a Public Private Partnership law to facilitate direct foreign investment in national infrastructure development. There are other FDI incentives in the country provided by QFC and the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), which both allow 100 percent foreign ownership. Moreover, in 2011, the Cabinet approved a draft law to establish free economic zones permitting 100 percent foreign ownership in multiple industrial sectors, and established a shareholding company, Manateq, to develop these zones. A Free Trade Zones Authority was established in early 2017 under the control of the Prime Minister’s office, but has not been officially launched yet.

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.

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 .

Business Facilitation

In 2016, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce took steps to streamline the commercial registration process and other business processes by increasing the number of online services and debuting a “one stop shop” for foreign companies looking to establish operations in Qatar. Nonetheless, U.S. companies have reported continued delays due to other stakeholders involved in the process of establishing a local company in Qatar. Strengthening stakeholder engagement and ensuring the process of establishing a business is streamlined within similar timeframes across all stakeholders would improve the registration process for U.S. firms. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce describes procedures for commercial registration on its website: https://www.mec.gov.qa/en/services/commerce-corner/Pages/How-to-establishment-a-new-Commercial-record-and-new-.aspx .

The World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business Report estimates that registering a small-size Limited Liability Company in Qatar takes eight and a half days, an improvement made possible by Qatar’s “one stop shop” service structure. Nonetheless, women are at a disadvantage as Family Law 22/2006 requires married women to obtain written permission from husbands “to leave the house to register a company.” For detailed information on business registration procedures, as evaluated by the World Bank, visit http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/qatar/ .

Qatar Development Bank provides services to local SMEs, including incubation and financing for startups. SMEs must be locally established, i.e., a foreign SME would have to partner with a local SME to receive these support services. The Ministry of Finance Procurement law (Law 24/2015) allows SMEs to request exemption from providing performance bonds and payment guarantees.

Outward Investment

Qatar does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad. According to latest foreign investment survey from the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics, Qatar’s outward FDI stock has increased over the years and reached USD 107.7 billion by the third quarter of 2017. The industries that accounted for most of Qatar’s outward FDI were finance and insurance, transportation, storage, information and communication, and wholesale and retail industries.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Qatar has 54 bilateral international investment agreements according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Twenty-two have been ratified including those signed with Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, China, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Montenegro, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, and Turkey. The most recent bilateral investment agreement, signed in November 2016, was with Argentina. A full list of the 54 current bilateral agreements with the State of Qatar can be found at: http://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/171 .

In addition to formal treaties, Qatar has entered into technical investment and trade agreements with over 39 countries. While Qatar has not entered into a bilateral investment or trade treaty with the United States yet, the two nations established a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2004. The United States and Qatar hold an annual high-level Strategic Dialogue, through which the countries discuss matters related to furthering economic cooperation.

Qatar does not have a double taxation treaty with the United States. In January 2015, however, Qatar became the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country to sign a Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) intergovernmental agreement with the United States. In total, Qatar has over 46 agreements for the Avoidance of Double Taxation, including, most recently, with Turkey (December 2016) and Nigeria (February 2016).

As part of GCC-wide fiscal reform efforts, Qatar agreed to implement the GCC Value-Added Tax (VAT) Framework Agreement to apply a five percent VAT on selective good and services – anticipated to exclude staple foods, and services such as education and health. Qatar also agreed to implement a GCC-wide excise tax on tobacco, soft drinks, energy drinks, and luxury goods. The timing of the implementation of these taxes is yet to be formally announced by the government.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

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

According to the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, Qatar lacks a transparent rulemaking system, as 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. Nonetheless, the 45-member Shura Council (which statutorily is obligated to have 30 publicly-elected officials, but in practice is comprised solely of direct appointees by the Emir) must reach consensus to pass draft legislation, which is then returned to the Cabinet for further review. Final approval is granted by the Emir. Laws and regulations are developed and drafted by relevant ministries and entities.

The text of all legislation is published online and in local newspapers upon approval by the Emir. All Qatari laws are issued in Arabic and eventually translated into English. Qatar-based legal firms provide translations of Qatari legislation to their clients. Qatar’s official legal portal is http://www.almeezan.qa  and QFC regulations are listed at http://www.qfcra.com/en-us/legislation/ .

Each approved law explicitly mandates one or more government entities with the responsibility to implement and enforce legislation. These entities are clearly defined in the text of each law. In some cases, the law also sets up regulatory and oversight committees made of representatives of concerned government entities to safeguard enforcement.

Qatar’s primary commercial regulator is the Ministry of Economy and Commerce. Commercial Companies’ Law 11/2015 necessitates that public shareholding companies submit financial statements, in compliance with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Accounting Standards (IAS), to the ministry. 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 firm’s website. All companies are required to keep accounting records, prepared according to standards promulgated by the IAS Board.

The Qatar Central Bank is the main financial regulator that oversees all financial institutions in Qatar, per Law 13/2012. To promote financial stability and enhance regulation coordination, the law established the Financial Stability and Risk Control Committee, which is headed by the Central Bank Governor. According to the Law 7/2005, the QFC Regulatory Authority is the independent regulator of the QFC firms and individuals conducting financial services in or from the QFC,” but the Qatar Central Bank also oversees financial markets housed within QFC.

International Regulatory Considerations

Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic regional union. Laws based on GCC regulations must be approved through Qatar’s domestic legislative process and are reviewed by the Cabinet and the Shura Council prior to implementation.

Qatar has been a member of the WTO since 1996 and it notifies the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) with draft technical regulations. Qatar is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has implemented 92.9 percent of TFA commitments, which will help expedite the movement and clearance of goods and improve cooperation between customs authorities and other appropriate authorities on trade facilitation and compliance issues.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Qatar’s legal system is based on a combination of civil and Sharia law. The Constitution takes precedence over all laws, followed by legislation and decrees, and finally ministerial resolutions. All judges are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, under Law 10/2003. The Supreme Judicial Council oversees Qatari courts and in practice functions independently from the executive branch of the government as per the Constitution.

Qatari courts adjudicate civil and commercial disputes in accordance with civil and Sharia law. International agreements have equal status with Qatari laws; the Constitution ensures that international pacts, treaties and agreements, to which Qatar is a party, are respected and taken into account. Qatar does not currently have a specialized commercial court; domestic commercial disputes are generally settled in civil courts. Decisions made in civil courts can be appealed before the Court of Appeals, or later the Court of Cassation.

Companies registered with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce are subject to Qatari courts and laws—primarily the Commercial Companies’ Law 11/2015 – while companies set up through QFC are regulated by commercial laws based on English Common Law and the courts of the QFC Regulatory Authority, per Law 7/2005. The QFC legal regime is separate from the Qatari legal system – with the exception of criminal law – and it is only applicable to companies licensed by the QFC.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Investment Law 13/2000 is the primary legislation governing foreign investment and generally limits foreign ownership to 49 percent of capital for most business activities, with a Qatari partner(s) holding at least 51 percent. However, the law does allow, upon obtaining special government approval, up to 100 percent foreign ownership in certain sectors, including: agriculture, industry, health, education, tourism, development and exploitation of natural resources, energy, mining, information technology, cultural services, business consulting services, sports, and entertainment. Qatar amended the law in 2004 to allow foreign investment in the banking and insurance sectors upon obtaining approval of the Cabinet.

When approving majority foreign ownership in a project, the law states that the project in question must align with the country’s national development plans. Preference is given to projects that use raw materials produced in the local market, manufacture products for export, produce a new product, use advanced technology, facilitate the transfer of technology and expertise to Qataris, and/or promote the development of Qatari human resources. Separately, foreign financial or professional services firms are allowed 100 percent ownership if they register at QFC.

In an effort to attract more FDI, the Cabinet approved, in January 2018, a draft law that introduces significant amendments to the existing foreign capital investment law, which will allow 100 percent foreign capital investment in most sectors, with the exception of commercial agencies and real estate. Investments in the banking sector and in insurance companies remain subject to Cabinet approval. The law will also include provisions on the protection of foreign investments from expropriation and the exemption of some foreign investment projects from income tax and customs duties on imports of raw materials. The Cabinet has referred the draft law to the Shura Council for review.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Certain sectors are not open for domestic or foreign competition, including public transportation, electricity, water, steel, cement, and fuel distribution and marketing. Instead, semi-public companies have complete or predominant control of these sectors. Law 19/2006 for the Protection of Competition and Prevention of Monopolistic Practice mandates the formation of the Competition Protection and Anti-Monopoly Committee, which is in charge of receiving complaints about anti-competition violations. This law, however, exempts state institutions and government-owned companies.

Qatar has begun to liberalize its telecommunications sector to permit outside private investment, starting with the issuance in December 2007 of a second mobile license to a consortium including Vodafone and the Qatar Foundation. The same venture was awarded the country’s second fixed-line license in September 2008. However, in February 2018, Vodafone sold its stake in the consortium to the Qatar Foundation, highlighting the ongoing fragility of competition in the telecommunications sector. Separately, there is a minimum financing requirement of QAR 200,000 in initial capital for any telecommunication business, which creates a barrier to entry for small entrepreneurs.

International law firms with 15 years of continuous experience in their countries of origin are allowed to set up operations in Qatar, but can only become licensed if Qatari authorities deem that their fields of specialization are useful to Qatar. On the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet can choose to reduce the number of required years of experience or fully waive the condition. Cabinet Decision Number 57/2010 states that the Doha office of an international law firm is allowed to practice in Qatar only if their main office in the country of origin remains open for business.

Expropriation and Compensation

Under existing legislation (Law 13/1988 and its subsequent amendments governing expropriation of real property), the government may divest an owner of title to private property and redistribute it for public use only if the owner receives fair compensation in return. Expropriation has been undertaken more frequently in recent years due to the increased number of major infrastructure projects being developed in preparation for the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Since 2010, the Official Gazette of Qatar has reported over 118 decisions to expropriate private property and distribute it for public use. Such expropriation is unlikely to occur in any of the investment zones in which non-Qataris may purchase or obtain rights to property, although the law does not restrict the power to expropriate in these areas.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Qatar has been party to the 1958 New York Convention since 2011 and a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since 2002. Qatar enforces foreign arbitral decisions concluded in states that are party to the New York Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

If investment disputes occur, Qatar accepts binding international arbitration. However, Qatari courts will not enforce judgments or awards from other courts in disputes emanating from investment agreements made under the jurisdiction of other nations.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) features an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) center. Although primarily concerned with hearing commercial matters arising from within the QFC itself, the QFC intends to expand the court’s jurisdiction to enable it to accept other disputes at its discretion. The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Center adjudicates disputes brought by firms associated with the QFC in accordance with British common law.

In March 2017, Qatar passed an arbitration law (Law 2/2017) based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) that gives Qatar’s International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre the jurisdiction to oversee arbitration cases in Qatar in line with recent local and international developments. The purpose of this law is to stimulate and strengthen Qatar’s investment and business environment.

There is no set duration for dispute resolution and the time to obtain a resolution depends on the case. The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre publishes past judgments on its website (https://www.qicdrc.com.qa/the-courts/judgments ).

In order to protect their interests, U.S. firms are advised to consult with a Qatari or foreign-based law firm when executing contracts with local parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Two concurrent bankruptcy regimes exist in Qatar. The first is the local regime, the provisions of which are set out in Commercial Law 27/2006. However, the bankruptcy law is largely untested. The bankruptcy of a Qatari citizen or a Qatari-owned company is rarely announced and the government sometimes plays the role of guarantor to prop up domestic businesses and safeguard creditors’ rights.

The second bankruptcy regime is found in the QFC Insolvency Regulations of 2005 and applies to corporate bodies and branches registered in the QFC. There are firms that offer full dissolution bankruptcy services to QFC-registered companies.

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

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Ministry of Economy and Commerce offers a variety of incentives to foreign investors, which may include tax exemptions, property grants, energy subsidies, and low-cost financing. The following is a list of potential incentives offered to foreign investors, which are similar to the incentives offered to Qatari investors.

  • Exemption from corporate tax for 10 years and no income taxes;
  • Subsidized or nominal rates for gas and electricity;
  • No customs duties on imports of machinery, equipment, and spare parts;
  • No quotas on imports;
  • No export duties or taxes on corporate profits for predetermined periods;
  • Potential allocation of land with long-term leases up to 50 years.

The Ministry of Energy and Industry determines the amount of foreign equity and the extent of incentives for industrial projects. Industrial projects can be established only in designated industrial zones.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Qatar has several economic free zone and business facilitation options:

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. Foreign entities wishing to invest in the QSTP apply for a license with the Park’s managing board and are exempted from Qatar’s other licensing regimes, although individuals, contracts, and agreements remain subject to the criminal and civil laws of the state. Licensed foreign companies can enjoy 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 tax free. They are also exempt from all taxes, including 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, Shell, Tata, Total, and ConocoPhillips are among QSTP member companies.

Manateq (Free Economic Zones)

Manateq is a state-owned company affiliated with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce established to manage and develop economic zones. Manateq has oversight of three economic zones in Mesaieed, Ras Bufontas, and Um Alhoul. Priority at the zones is given to Qatari SMEs and logistics companies. A draft law was approved by the Cabinet in February 2016 allowing foreign companies 100 percent ownership of businesses in the zones. The law is pending Emiri approval.

Qatar Financial Center

Qatar Financial Center 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 100 percent 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 services firms operating in the QFC. The QFC Regulatory Tribunal and Qatar International Court (QIC) hear and adjudicate cases, though these bodies’ judgments are only of any value if enforced by Qatari courts against persons and assets in Qatar. As of March 2018, QFC had 500 listed companies.

A new Free Trade Zone Authority was established early 2017 under the Prime Minister’s office, and is expected to offer 100 percent foreign ownership to international companies. The official announcement in expected in the second half of 2018.

In the last two years, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce has also aimed to introduce a public-private partnership (PPP) law to further attract foreign investors, although a draft law has not yet been brought before the Cabinet.

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, localization policy (“Qatarization”) in the public sector is a main focus of the country’s National Vision 2030. 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 (MADLSA). A board of directors can include Qatari and foreign nationals as long as the equity of the Qatari nationals remains at 51 percent or higher.

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 1,373,249) 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.

There are no known formalized requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to surveillance. Information and communications technology (ICT) is regulated by Qatar’s Communications Regulatory Authority, established as an independent body by Emiri Decree 42/2014, under the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Performance requirements for foreign investment in Qatar do not exist. Disclosure of financial and employment data is required, but proprietary information is not.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The State of Qatar has a collection of laws, ministerial decrees, and resolutions that make up the country’s jurisprudence on property rights and ownership. As a general rule, only Qataris and 100 percent Qatari-owned companies can have absolute ownership of land and estates as set forth in Law 5/1963. Nonetheless, with booming infrastructure development, the state has eased foreign property ownership restrictions in order to facilitate investment in the real estate sector while strengthening regulation. Different laws apply to foreign entities and GCC entities.

Under current legislation (Law 17/2004), foreign individuals may own land, buildings, and construction in the following designated real estate projects: Pearl-Qatar, West Bay Lagoon, and Al Khor Resort. GCC nationals may own real estate in the following projects: Lusail, Fox Hills, and Al Khuraj. Foreign individuals are also granted long-term leasehold rights in 18 specified investment areas and the right to occupy or lease the property for a renewable period of up to 99 years. Law 2/2006 grants real estate visas to property owners, permitting foreign owners and their immediate family members to reside in the country for a period of five years without work sponsorship.

Property ownership rights of non-Qatari public companies are more restricted. Generally, foreign companies are not permitted to invest or trade in real estate, but as per Law 6/2014, non-Qatari companies with at least 10 years of experience and headquarters in Qatar may carry out real estate development activities within selected locations. Public companies with non-Qatari shareholders may also be able to own or lease real estate for their business operations, but only in certain areas and for a limited period.

Property leasehold rights are enforced. Qatar’s Rent Law 4/2008 protects the lessee and regulates the lessor. These are a number of enforceable rights granted to the lessee including protection from rent hikes during the lease period and enforcement of the terms of the lease contract should the lessor transfer ownership to a new owner. The lessor is also protected from tenants who violate their lease agreements. Qatar’s Leasing Dispute Settlement Committee enforces these regulations. The committee hears and issues binding decisions and all lessors are required by law to register their lease agreements with this committee.

The Ministry of Municipality and Environment oversees the preparation of all records related to the selling, leasing, waiver, and bequeathing of real estate. A reliable electronic database exists for checking for encumbrances, including liens, mortgages, and restrictions. In addition, all titles and deed records are kept in a fully digital format.

Qatar is ranked 26th globally in 2018 for ease of registering property by the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, found here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/qatar#registering-property .

Intellectual Property Rights

Qatar’s intellectual property (IP) legal regime, albeit still developing in capacity, is robust and wide-ranging in terms of the number of laws protecting different types of intellectual property rights. Qatar has signed many international intellectual property treaties, which are implemented within Qatari laws and regulations. These consist of the Trademark and Copyright Law (signed in 2002), the Protection of Trade Secrets and Protection of Layout Design law (2005), and a Patent Law (2006). These laws grant foreign applicants the same rights as Qataris, provided that they are nationals of a state that grants Qatar reciprocal treatment.

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

  • Patents: Valid for 20 years from filing.
    • With regard to pharmaceutical products, the Ministry of Public Health requires registration of all products imported into the country and will not register unauthorized copies of products patented in other countries. Qatar also recognizes GCC patents on pharmaceutical products. To obtain patent protection in the GCC, pharmaceutical companies must apply for a GCC patent at the GCC Patent Office. Once granted, protection should extend to all the GCC countries.
  • Copyrights: Protected for 50 years after the author’s death.
    • As per Qatari law, failure to register at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce 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 and abides by their mandates concerning unpublished works. The IP Protection Department works with law enforcement authorities to prosecute resellers of unlicensed video and software.
  • Trademarks: Valid for 10 years but can be renewed indefinitely, while trademarks unused for five consecutive years are subject to cancellation.
    • As part of the GCC Customs Union, inaugurated in 2015, the GCC approved a common trademark law and Qatar is taking steps to enact it.

The law on Intellectual Property Border Protection (Law 17/2011) forbids the entrance of any products that infringe any intellectual property rights protected in Qatar and obliges the General Customs Authority to take measures to prevent the entrance of infringing products into the country. The law also permits IP rights holders to block the release of imported products that infringe on their rights, given sufficient evidence. The General Customs Authority, the Consumer Protection and IP Protection Departments at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, and the Ministry of Interior conduct surveys, search shops, and seize and destroy counterfeit products. In 2017, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce conducted raids and destroyed thousands of counterfeit electrical appliances, auto spare parts, and CDs.

In February 2017, the General Customs Authority 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 imports of counterfeit goods.

The existing Penal Code stipulates hefty fines on those dealing in counterfeit products and imprisonment for offenders convicted of counterfeiting, imitating, fraudulently affixing, selling products, offering services of a registered trademark, or other intellectual property violations. However, the level of awareness about intellectual property rights and enforcements is low among the general public. The IP Protection Department in the Ministry of Economy and Commerce has taken the lead in promoting awareness through workshops and seminars.

In March 2017, the Cabinet approved a draft law on the protection of industrial designs in an attempt to modernize existing laws on trademarks, commercial data, trade names, geographical indications, and industrial designs and models.

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, nor is Qatar listed in USTR’s Special 301 Report listing governments that fail to provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of IP rights.

Qatar is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and is a signatory of several WIPO treaties.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/wipolex/en/profile.jsp?code=QA .

Resources for Rights Holders

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Regional IP Attaché
Peter C. Mehravari Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa
U.S. Embassy Kuwait City, Kuwait
U.S. Department of Commerce Foreign Commercial Service
U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
+965 2259 1455
Peter.mehravari@trade.gov
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
Sung Chang
+1 (202) 395-9564
Sung.E.Chang@ustr.eop.gov
http://www.ustr.gov 

A list of local attorneys that may be able to provide assistance in pursuing IP protections and enforcement claims in Qatar can be found at: https://qa.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Foreign portfolio investment has been permitted since 2005. There is no restriction on the flow of capital in Qatar. The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) adheres to conservative policies aimed at maintaining steady economic growth and a stable banking sector. Loans are allocated on market terms, and foreign companies are essentially treated the same as local companies.

Currently, foreign ownership is limited to 49 percent of Qatari companies listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange, but there are plans to allow foreign investors to obtain more than 49 percent, subject to approval from the Cabinet. Legislation is in the final stages of the approval process to encourage further foreign capital investment, and when passed will allow 100 percent foreign project capital investment in most sectors. Foreign portfolio investment in national oil and gas companies or companies with the right of exploration of national resources cannot exceed 49 percent.

Almost all import transactions are controlled by standard letters of credit processed by local banks and their correspondent banks in the exporting countries. Credit facilities are provided to local and foreign investors within the framework of standard international banking practices. Foreign investors are usually required to have a guarantee from their local sponsor or equity partner. However, in accordance with QCB guidelines, banks operating in Qatar give priority to Qataris and to public development projects in their financing operations. Additionally, single customers may not be extended credit facilities by a bank 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. QCB respects IMF Article VIII and does not restrict payments or transfers for international transactions.

QCB manages liquidity by requiring 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.

Qatar has become an important banking and financial services center in the Gulf region. Qatar’s monetary freedom score is 75 and it ranks 29th out of 180 countries in the 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, according to the Heritage Foundation. Qatar is ranked second in the Middle East/North Africa region in terms of economic freedom and its overall score is above the world average.

Money and Banking System

There are 18 licensed banks in Qatar, 11 of which are Qatari institutions including four Islamic banks and seven commercial banks, and seven are foreign institutions. Qatar also has 20 exchange houses, three investment companies, and three commercial finance companies. In addition, the government-owned and financed Qatar Development Bank acts as a lender and financer of SMEs to encourage entrepreneurship and develop the private sector within Qatar. In December 2016, three banks, Masraf Al Rayan, Barwa Bank, and International Bank of Qatar, announced a merger which would create the second largest bank in Qatar; the timing of the closing of this transaction is unclear.

According to Qatar Central Bank (QCB) data, total banking assets reached USD 377.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017, an increase from total assets at the end of 2016. Qatar National Bank (QNB), 50 percent state-owned via the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), is the largest bank in the country, controlling around half of all local assets, and the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa with more than USD 198 billion in total assets. The IMF estimated in 2017 that 1.2 percent of Qatar’s bank loans were nonperforming – the lowest ratio in the Arab Gulf.

Qatar’s banking sector remains strong despite lowered public sector deposits due to falling hydrocarbon sector revenues and a decline of USD 40 billion in foreign and private sector deposits following the onset of a June 2017 embargo on Qatar imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. QCB, in its role as the sole financial regulator, continues to introduce incentives for local banks to ensure a strong financial sector that is resilient during economic volatility. In 2017, QCB offset the decline in foreign deposits by injecting liquidity into the market from the public sector and QIA.

Qatar has not officially announced its intent to explore or implement blockchain technologies in its banking transactions. Some local banks have taken initiative to explore this technology. In 2017, Qatar Commercial Bank announced that it successfully completed an initial pilot to process international transfers using a blockchain network. In another development, Qatar Central Bank warned local banks in February 2018 against trading in cryptocurrencies due to regulatory concerns.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

Due to minimal demand for the Qatari riyal outside Qatar and the national economy’s dependence on oil and gas revenues, which are priced in dollars, the government has pegged the riyal to the U.S. dollar. The official peg is QAR 1.00 per USD 0.27 or USD 1.00 per QAR 3.64, as set by the government in June 1980 and reaffirmed by an Emiri decree issued July 9, 2001.

There are no restrictions on foreign exchange in Qatar, and travelers can move currencies in and out without restriction as currency declaration is not required. Residents of Qatar may also move cash easily and in any form.

Remittance Policies

Qatar neither delays remittance of foreign investment returns nor restricts transfer of funds associated with an investment, such as return on dividends, return of capital, interest and principal payments on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, management fees, amounts generated from sale or liquidation, amounts garnered from settlements and disputes, and compensation from expropriation to financial institutions outside Qatar.

Despite the growth of the banking sector and increasing options for financial services, Qatar still retains a largely cash economy. The expansion of the financial and trade sectors, the large number of expatriate laborers who send remittances to their home countries, and the potential exploitation of unregulated currency exchanges pose money laundering and terrorism financing vulnerabilities in Qatar.

To detect money laundering/terrorist financing and other financial offences, the Government of Qatar issued an Anti-Money Laundering/Counter-Terrorism Finance Law (AML/CFT), Law 4/2010, which introduced a suspicious transactions reporting regime and requirements for consumer due diligence and record-keeping. The law addressed many of the deficiencies identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and makes money laundering and terrorist financing punishable offenses in line with FATF international standards. Qatar is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a FATF-style regional body. In July 2017, Qatar signed a counterterrorism MOU with the United States, which includes information sharing, training, enhanced cooperation, and other deliverables related to AML and CFT. In the same month, the Emir issued Decree No. 4 of 2017 amending Law 11/2004 on combating terrorism, which created two national terrorism lists and established rules for designating individuals and groups who finance or perpetrate terrorism on these lists.

In accordance with Qatar Central Bank instructions on AML/CFT, financial institutions must apply due diligence prior to establishing business relationships. Certain originator information should be secured where a wire transfer exceeds QAR 4,000 (USD 1,098). Similarly, due diligence should be made when a customer is completing occasional transactions in a single operation or several linked operations of an amount exceeding QAR 55,000 (USD 15,109), per the provisions of Article 23 of Law 4/2010.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, was established by Emiri Decree 22/2005. QIA is overseen by the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment, chaired by the Emir. QIA does not disclose its assets, but independent analysts estimate QIA’s holdings at around USD 330 billion. QIA pursues direct investments and favors luxury brands, prime real estate, and banks. This is in addition to real estate developments led by the fund’s subsidiary, Qatari Diar, and investments in agriculture led by another subsidiary, Hassad Food. In March 2017, media reported that QIA was transferring ownership of its domestic portfolio which accounts for USD 100 billion (including investments in Ooredoo and Qatar Airways) to the Ministry of Finance.

In September 2015, QIA opened an office in New York City to facilitate over USD 45 billion committed to investments in the United States over the course of five years. In March 2017, QIA announced its intent to open an office in California. QIA’s real estate subsidiary, Qatari Diar, has operated an office in Washington, D.C. since 2014. At the second U.S.-Qatar Economic and Investment Dialogue in 2016, QIA announced it would invest at least USD 10 billion in U.S. infrastructure revitalization.

QIA was one of the early supporters of the Santiago Principles and among the few members who drafted the initial and final versions of the principles. Qatar has remained a proactive supporter of its implementation. QIA was also one the founding members of the IMF-hosted International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

QIA fully supported the establishment of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds (IFSWF) and helped create the Forum’s constitution. In November 2014, QIA hosted the IFSWF 6th annual meeting, which resulted in the Doha Agreement, adopting a three-year strategic plan to ensure the free flow of long-term global capital and strong real returns.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The State Audit Bureau oversees state-owned enterprises (SOEs), several of which operate as monopolies or with 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 and encourages small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) 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

Qatar Petroleum (QP), its subsidiaries and partners operate all oil and gas activities in the country. QP is wholly owned by the government and oversees production from the North Gas Field in addition to onshore and offshore oil. QP owns a network of subsidiaries, with the most prominent being Qatargas.

Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa) operates all water and electricity activities and is 52 percent owned by Qatari government entities. The government has indicated that it may privatize segments of the water and electricity sectors. A first step in this direction occurred when the Ras Laffan Power Company, which is 55 percent owned by a U.S. company, was established in 2001.

Woqod (Qatar Fuel) and its subsidiaries were granted an exclusive government concession to market, sell and distribute oil, gas, and refined petroleum products in Qatar for a period of 15 years. The company operates all fuel stations in the country, offers ship-to-ship bunkering within Qatari waters, and sells liquid petroleum gas to local consumers. Woqod’s concession expires in 2018 and the Qatari government has not yet indicated if it will alter or extend the concession. In March 2018, the Qatari government lifted foreign ownership restrictions on Qatar Stock Exchange-listed shares of Woqod; foreign investors will now be able to hold up to 49 percent of these publically-listed shares. The shareholder ownership limit in Woqod was also raised to one percent.

Transportation

Qatar Airways is the country’s designated National Carrier and is wholly owned by the state. Airline executives state the government plans to take the company public within the next decade.

Services

Qatar General Postal Corporation (Q-Post) is the state-owned postal company. Several other delivery companies are allowed to compete in the courier market: Aramex, DHL Express, and FedEx Express.

Ooredoo is a telecommunications company founded in 2013. It is a dominant player in the Qatari telecoms market and is 68 percent owned by Qatari government entities. Prior to 2007, both the mobile and fixed line telecoms markets in Qatar were dominated by Ooredoo. Vodafone was selected to compete in both mobile and fixed line telecoms market against Ooredoo, and is 20 percent owned by Qatari government entities. However, in February 2018, Vodafone sold its stake in the venture back to the Qatari government, highlighting the ongoing fragility of competition in the telecommunications sector.

Qatar 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. When an SOE is involved in an investment dispute, the case is reviewed by the appropriate sector regulator. In 2010, for example, the Supreme Council for Information and Communications Technology ruled against SOE Q-Tel (now Ooredoo) when Vodafone Qatar lodged a complaint against the former for misleading advertisements.

Privatization Program

There is no ongoing official privatization program for major SOEs. Qatar Airline executives state the government plans to take the company public within the next decade.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general awareness in Qatar of responsible business conduct principles. 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 new National Development Strategy 2018-2022, which was 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 in 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 Economy and Commerce has a dedicated Consumer Protection and Combating Commercial Fraud Department which has intensified its efforts in recent years by increasing monitoring of records and inspection of stores and factories that sell or manufacture counterfeit goods. The Ministry convicts violators when business misconduct is detected or reported and announces these violations publically.

The Government of Qatar considers money laundering and terrorist financing offences in line with international standards, and it has introduced a reporting regime for suspicious transaction 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) and hosted the fourth global EITI conference in 2009. 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 regards 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, 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.

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.

9. Corruption

Corruption in Qatar does not generally affect business although the power of personal connections plays a major role in business culture. Qatar is one of the least corrupt countries in the Middle East and North Africa according to Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index. Qatar was ranked 29 of 180 nations globally with a score of 63 out of 100.

Qatari law imposes criminal penalties to combat corruption by public officials, and the government practices these laws. In the past three years, corruption and misuse of public money has been a focus of the executive office. In 2015, the Emir issued Decree 6/2015 restructuring the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority (ACTA). The Authority has juridical responsibility and its own budget and is directly affiliated with the Emir’s office. The Chairman has the authority to report directly to the Emir to combat any forms of corruption. The objectives of the Authority are to prevent official corruption and ensure that ministries, state agencies, and public employees operate with transparency. The Authority is charged with investigating alleged crimes against public property or finances perpetrated by public officials.

Additionally, in November 2015, the Emir issued a law increasing penalties for corrupt officials, and in 2016 issued another piece of legislation granting the State Audit Bureau more financial authority and independence, and allowing it to publish parts of its findings (provided that confidential information is removed), something it was not previously empowered to do. The government of Qatar also established the global “Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani Anti-Corruption Excellence Award” in commemoration of Anti-Corruption Day on December 9, 2016, at UN headquarters in Geneva with the intention of recognizing global anti-corruption efforts and achievements.

In 2015, the Public Prosecution’s Anti-Corruption Office launched a campaign encouraging the public to report corruption and bribery cases, establishing hotlines and a tip reporting inbox and vowing to protect the confidentiality of submitted information:

Public Prosecution
Anti-Corruption Office
Hotlines: +974-3353-1999 and +974-3343-1999
Email address: aco@pp.gov.qa

Those convicted of embezzlement and damage to the public treasury are subject to terms of imprisonment of no less than five and up to ten years. The penalty is extended to a minimum term of seven and a maximum term of fifteen years if the perpetrator is a public official in charge of collecting taxes or exercising fiduciary responsibilities over public funds. Investigations into allegations of corruption are handled by the Qatar State Security Bureau and Public Prosecution. Final judgments are made by the Criminal Court.

Bribery is also a crime in Qatar and the law imposes penalties on public officials convicted of taking action in return for monetary or personal gain, or for other parties who take actions to influence or attempt to influence a public official through monetary or personal gains. The current Penal Code (Law 11/2004) governs corruption law and stipulates that individuals convicted of bribery may receive up to ten years imprisonment and a fine equal to the amount of the bribe but not less than USD 1,374.

By Emiri Decree 17/2007, Qatar ratified the UN Convention for Combating Corruption, and Emiri Decree 84/2007 established a National Committee for Integrity and Transparency. The permanent committee is headed by the chairman of the State Audit Bureau and tasked with combating corruption in Qatar and reports directly to the chairman. Qatar also opened the Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law Center in 2013 in Doha in partnership with the United Nations. The purpose of the Center is to support, promote, and disseminate legal principles to fight against corruption.

The procurement law of November 2015 (Law 24/2015) is designed to promote a fair, transparent, simple, and expeditious tendering process. It abolishes the Central Tendering Committee and establishes a Procurement Department within the Ministry of Finance which has oversight responsibility over the majority of government tenders. The new department created an online portal which consolidates all government tenders and provides relevant information to interested bidders, including facilitating the process for foreign investors (https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa ). Despite these efforts, some American businesses continue to cite lack of transparency in government procurement and customs as reoccurring issues faced in the Qatari market.

Qatar is not a party to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials.

U.S. investors and Qatari nationals, if they are agents of U.S. firms, are subject to the provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

10. Political and Security Environment

Qatar is a politically stable country with low crime rates. There are no political parties or labor unions, or any credible organized domestic political opposition. The U.S. government believes the potential exists for acts of transnational terrorism to occur in Qatar.

In June 2017, the neighboring countries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar. This geopolitical rift has not altered the political and security environment for U.S. visitors to Qatar.

Potential investors and U.S. citizens are encouraged to stay in close contact with the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Doha for up-to-date threat information. U.S. visitors to Qatar are invited to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to receive further information regarding safety conditions in Qatar: https://step.state.gov/step/.

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, and in the private sector, foreigners make up over 99 percent of the labor force per statistics from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics. Qatar’s resident population is estimated at 2.7 million as of February 2018, more than doubling in the last decade. Qatari citizens are estimated to number approximately 300,000 –12 percent of the total population. The largest group of foreign workers comes from the Indian sub-continent. Males make up more than 75 percent of the population, while unskilled labor makes up around 60 percent of the population.

Unemployment rates in Qatar are among the lowest in the world, with 0.1 percent unemployment rate for males and 0.6 percent unemployment rate for females as of September 2017. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor, and Social Affairs (MADLSA) regulate recruitment of expatriate labor.

According to Law 14/2004, the legislation that largely governs employment in Qatar, 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 the onshore platform 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 government implemented 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 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.

In an effort to eliminate forced labor, the government issued reforms to the sponsorship system in 2015 that allow employees to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. The reforms allow employees to leave the country through a simplified process which includes a government panel that reviews any blocked exit permits within three days’ time. 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 as Qatar enters a three-year technical agreement, signed with the ILO in November 2017, to address weaknesses in its labor oversight and recruitment system.

To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, the government issued a 2015 law on Wage Protection mandating electronic payment to all employees subject to local labor law, but the law notably does not cover domestic workers. As of November 2015, 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 two million workers.

To protect workers from fraudulent employment contracts, in November 2017, the Ministry of Interior signed an agreement with a Singaporean company 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 the Ministry, the contracted company will establish service centers in these countries to facilitate biometric enrollment, medical records verification, and the signing of work contracts before these workers enter Qatar.

Qatar is a member of the ILO and claims that its labor law meets ILO minimum requirements, although in a March 2017 decision, the ILO raised several concerns, including vulnerabilities in the inspection regime, a lack of protections for domestic workers, and concerns over the recruitment system. In November 2017, Qatar made commitments to address these issues and an ILO complaint was closed upon the launch of a comprehensive three-year ILO technical cooperation program in Qatar.

In January 2018, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding (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.

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).

When bidding for projects in the power and logistics sectors, some Japanese and Chinese companies have been known to offer financing for the projects they bid upon in addition to offering their technologies and services, which makes it harder for companies that do not provide financing to compete fairly for tenders.

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
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2016 $152,469 2016 $152,452 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2016 $8,626 2016 $8,737 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Host Country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A 2016 $2,043 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_multinational_
companies_comprehensive_data.htm
 
Total Inbound Stock of FDI as % host GDP 2016 24.4% 2016 22.26% Per UNCTAD, in 2016 inward FDI stock was $33.9 billion. Per World Bank, GDP of Qatar in 2016 was $152.4 billion

Source: Official local economic data are from the Ministry of Development and Statistics. For more national statistics visit government portal: https://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/Pages/default.aspx .

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 $37.2 100% Total Outward $38.4 100%
Other American Countries $13.3 36% European Union $13.1 34%
European Union $10.9 29% Gulf Cooperation Council $9.3 24%
United States of America $8.6 23% Other $7.5 20%
Gulf Cooperation Council $1.8 5% Other Arab Countries $5.3 14%
Other $2.6 7% Asia $3.1 8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: 2016 data from Qatar’s Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics https://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/Pages/default.aspx .

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy
22nd February Street
Al Luqta District
P.O. Box 2399
Doha, Qatar
+974-4496-6720
EskandarGA@state.gov

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