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. The World Bank estimates a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 3.6 percent in 2017. Due to lower hydrocarbon prices, Qatar is expecting its second budget deficit in fifteen years in 2017, partly due to the Government of Qatar’s decision to maintain high levels of government spending in pursuit of its 2030 National Vision. To offset the deficit, the government raised debt internationally and sold $9 billion of Eurobonds in 2016. In contrast to other oil/gas-dependent economies, Qatar’s LNG supply contracts and relatively low production costs have largely shielded Qatar 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. In 2016, the government streamlined its procurement processes and created an online portal for all government tenders in an effort to improve transparency. The government also created a regulatory regime to curb corruption and anti-competitive practices. It is also in the process of introducing reforms to its foreign investment laws to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses in more economic sectors. These measures promise an attractive environment for foreign investors. In adherence to the country’s 2030 National Vision, Qatar aims to modernize infrastructure and establish an advanced knowledge-based and diversified economy which will no longer be reliant on the hydrocarbon sector.

As Qatar plans to spend $200 billion in the lead up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and in implementation of its long term National Vision, there are significant opportunities for foreign investment in infrastructure, healthcare, education, tourism, and financial services, and other sectors. Qatar’s 2017 budgetary spending is focused, in particular, on infrastructure, health, and education. By value of inward foreign direct investment (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. A value-added tax (VAT) will be introduced for the first time in 2018, as part of a GCC-wide initiative, and taxes on luxury items and products harmful to human health and the environment – such as tobacco, alcohol, soft drinks, and energy drinks – will be applied starting in mid-2017.

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 $45 billion in intended investments in various sectors over five years. QIA opened an office in New York City in September 2015 to help facilitate these investments.

The U.S. and Qatar launched the Economic and Investment Dialogue (EID) in October 2015 in Washington, DC to further strengthen the bilateral economic relationship and help address obstacles to investment and trade. The second EID took place in Doha in December 2016, and the third round of talks will take place in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2017.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 31 of 176 http://www.transparency.org/
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2017 83 of 190 doingbusiness.org/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2016 50 of 128 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2015 $8.463 billion http://www.bea.gov/
World Bank GNI per capita 2015 $83,990 http://data.worldbank.org/

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Qatar is undergoing an approximately $200 billion infrastructure development plan in pursuit of its 2030 National Vision and by way of preparation for the FIFA World Cup, which Qatar will host in 2022. The government also plans to invest between $20 billion to $25 billion in tourism infrastructure development. The largest, single planned development project is the $29 billion metro and rail project, which will be implemented in three phases with completion scheduled for 2022. These economic activities and policies have created, and will continue to create, significant business opportunities for foreign investors.

The dominant driver of Qatar’s economy remains the oil and gas sector, and particularly developments associated with the North Field in the Persian Gulf, the largest non-associated natural gas field in the world. Qatar’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry has attracted tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment and made Qatar the world’s largest exporter of LNG. Qatar imposed a moratorium on increasing natural gas production from the North Field in 2012. The moratorium on further development remains in effect. Significant investment in the downstream sector is likely to continue. Nonetheless, diversification of economic revenue sources is a priority and a focus in the 2030 Qatar National Vision.

The government is actively looking for ways to incentivize foreign and private sector investments and encourage small and medium enterprise participation in the economy. Qatar’s investment liberalization policies are proceeding on a gradual basis, partly based on a desire to protect local companies from competition. The country’s main investment oversight bodies are the Cabinet, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, the 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 main entity responsible for setting policies on attracting foreign investment and raising awareness of investment opportunities.

As part of new legislation (Law 24/2015) governing government procurement promulgated in June 2016, procurement processes were streamlined and a new online procurement portal was launched by the Ministry of Finance to consolidate information on all government tenders, in an effort to increase transparency of available investment opportunities. The procurement portal can be accessed via the link: https://monaqasat.mof.gov.qa 

When competing for government contracts, preferential treatment is given to suppliers that use local content in their bids. In accordance with GCC common procurement law (Qatar Law 6/1987), goods with Qatari content receive a 10 percent price preference while goods from other GCC countries receive a five percent price preference. As a rule, participation in tenders with a value of QR 5 million or less ($1.37 million) is confined to local contractors, suppliers and merchants registered by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce. Tenders with a higher value do not require any local commercial registration to participate, but in practice certain exceptions exist.

Qatar maintains ongoing dialogue with the United States in both official and private sector tracks, e.g., through the annual Economic and Investment Dialogue and official trade missions undertaken in cooperation with chambers of commerce. Qatari officials have stated a 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 Health, Qatar Tourism Authority, Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning, Ministry of Economy and Commerce, Supreme Education Council, and Ministry of Environment.

Non-Qatari investors are, for the most part, prohibited from investing in the financial services and real estate sectors. However, many foreign financial services firms are active in Qatar through the onshore business platform offered by the Qatar Financial Center (QFC), which permits 100% foreign ownership.

The government is currently in the process of approving reforms to the current foreign capital investment legal framework. These new reforms promise to allow 100 percent foreign capital investment in all sectors provided that the foreign investor hires a Qatari service provider, in order to increase foreign direct investments (FDI). The Ministry of Economy and Commerce is also drafting a Public Private Partnership law, to ease direct foreign investment in national procurement for infrastructure development. There are other FDI incentives in the country including QFC and the Qatar Science and Technology Park, which both allow 100 percent foreign ownership. Moreover, the Cabinet approved a draft law to establish free economic zones, titled Manateq, which will also allow 100 percent foreign ownership in multiple industrial sectors, in an effort to diversify economic revenue (see below).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Qatar underwent World Trade Organization (WTO) policy reviews in April 2014. The review can 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 through the establishment of a “one stop shop” in the ministry for new companies, including foreign companies looking to establish in Qatar. The World Bank’s “Doing Business Report” estimates that registering a small-size Limited Liability Company in Qatar takes about eight days, an improvement made possible by the one stop shop. 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 small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), including incubation and financing of startups. SMEs need to be locally established i.e., a foreign SME would have to partner with a local SME to receive these support services. The new 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 data from the Ministry of Decampment, Planning and Statistics, Qatar’s outward FDI stock has increased over the years and reach $28.3 billion in 2015. The industries that accounted for most Qatar outward FDI were finance and insurance, transportation, storage, information and communication, and wholesale and retail industries.

Qatar has 53 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, Republic of Korea, Montenegro, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Switzerland and Turkey. The most recent bilateral investment agreement, signed in November 2016, was with Argentina. A full list of the 53 current bilateral agreements 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, it signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in April 2004. Qatar additionally launched an Economic and Investment Dialogue with the United States in October 2015, which calls for annual high-level talks on matters related to economic cooperation. The Second Annual Economic and Investment Dialogue was held in Doha in December of 2016, in which senior officials from both governments committed to advance discussions on a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and other objectives.

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 (Feb 2016).

As part of GCC-wide fiscal reform efforts, Qatar recently signed a GCC VAT Framework Agreement, and it plans to roll out 5 percent VATs starting January 2018 on selective good and services – likely excluding basic foods, and services such as education and health. Moreover, Qatar and other GCC countries will enforce, in mid-2017, a selective tax on products considered harmful to human health and the environment, including tobacco, soft drinks and energy drinks, in addition to luxury goods produced domestically or imported.

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 is an advocate of the free market economy and has taken measures to protect competition and ensure a free and efficient economy.

Law 19/2006 for the Protection of Competition and Prevention of Monopolistic Practice mandates the formation of the Competition Protection and Antimonopoly Committee which is in charge of receiving complaints about anti-competition violations. The committee’s values include impartiality, confidentiality, transparency, and competence, which it must carry in its judgments, according to the legislation. This law, however, exempts state institutions and government-owned companies. There are also regulatory authorities for most sectors in the economy that are mandated to monitor economic activity and ensure fair practices.

According to the World Bank’s Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance, Qatar does not have a transparent system of rulemaking, as ministries and regulatory agencies do not share regulatory plans or publish draft laws for public consideration. Draft bills are not made public and an official public consultation process does not exist in Qatar. Following Cabinet meetings, plans of potential draft legislation are made public, but few details are provided. Nonetheless, the Shura Council (which statutorily is comprised of two-thirds elected officials and one-third appointees from the Emir, but in practice are all appointees of the Emir) consults and reviews legislation. The Cabinet passes draft laws to the Shura Council for consultation, comments, and recommendations. The Shura Council votes and members must reach a consensus to pass a draft legislation, which is then returned to the Cabinet for further review and approval. Final approval is granted by the Emir. Laws and regulations are developed and drafted by concerned ministries and entities.

The text of all legislation is published online and in local newspapers upon approval by the Emir. All Qatari Laws (except for those issued by the Qatar Financial Centre) 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 carry out and enforce legislation. These entities are clearly defined in the text of law. In some cases, the law also sets up regulatory and oversight committees made of representatives of concerned government entities to safeguard enforcement.

The main 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 of Economy and Commerce. Publicly listed companies should also publish financial statements 15 days before its Annual General Meeting, in two local newspapers (in Arabic and English) and on the company’s website. All companies are required to keep accounting records (including Private Shareholding Companies, Limited Liability Companies, and Limited Partnership Companies), prepared according to standards promulgated by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

The Qatar Central Bank is the main financial regulator that oversees all financial institutions in Qatar, as set in Law13/2012. This law aims to promote financial stability and enhance regulation coordination through the Financial Stability and Risk Committee, which is headed by the Central Bank Governor. The Qatar Central Bank also oversees financial markets within the Qatar Financial Center.

International Regulatory Considerations

Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic regional union. One of the GCC’s main objectives is to formulate common regulations in finance, trade, customs, and tourism. A common GCC regulation, such as the upcoming shared excise taxes of 2017 on products harmful to health, is handled separately by each government, as each has sovereign leverage in how to implement common regulations domestically. Laws based on GCC regulation have to go through the legislative process and are reviewed by the Cabinet and the Shura Council.

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. While the constitution mandates an independent judiciary system, all judges are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, under Law 10/2003. The Supreme Judicial Council oversees Qatari courts.

Qatari courts determine civil and commercial disputes in accordance with legislation. International agreements have the same status as Qatari laws; the Constitution ensures that international pacts, treaties and agreements, to which Qatar is party, are respected and taken into account. Qatar does not currently have a specialized commercial court; domestic commercial disputes are generally settled at the Civil Court and the civil division within the Court of Appeal.

Companies registered with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce are subject to Qatari courts and laws, mainly the Commercial Companies’ Law 11/2015, while companies set up through the Qatar Financial Center (QFC) are regulated by commercial laws based on English Common Law and the courts of the Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority, as established in Law 7/2005. The QFC legal regime is separate from 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 the capital for most business activities, with a Qatari partner(s) holding at least 51 percent. However, the law allows, upon obtaining special government approval, up to 100 percent ownership by foreign investors in certain sectors, including: agriculture, industry, health, education, tourism, development and exploitation of natural resources, energy, or mining. Qatar amended the law in 2004 to allow foreign investment in the banking and insurance sectors upon obtaining approval of the Cabinet. Moreover, foreign financial services firms are allowed 100 percent ownership if they register at the Qatar Financial Center (QFC).

When approving majority foreign ownership in a project, the law states that the project in question should be in line with the country’s national development plans. It adds that preference should be given to projects that use raw materials available in the local market, manufacture products for export, produce a new product or use advanced technology, facilitate the transfer of technology and know-how to Qataris, and/or promote the development of Qatari human resources.

In an effort to attract more foreign direct investment, the government is currently reviewing a draft law that introduces amendments to the existing foreign capital investment law and allows 100 percent foreign capital investment in all sectors provided that the foreign investor hires a Qatari service provider.

Commercial Companies Law 11/2015, Qatar’s main and updated commercial law, simplifies company registration and sets up the “one stop shop” at the Ministry to facilitate company licensing. The law lowers requirements for setting up a business and reduces wait times for commercial registration and other related processes.

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 will have oversight responsibility over the majority of government tenders. The new department has also 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 ).

A Public Finance Law (Law 2/2015) was enacted in 2015 to optimize the use of public funds and institute international best practices and standards in Qatar’s financial regulatory framework. The legislation is trying to help Qatar develop a long-term investment strategy by setting up a macroeconomic unit within the Ministry of Finance to monitor overall economic management and planning, including a public investment program established to identify the State’s major projects and ways in which to prioritize them. The law also amended Qatar’s fiscal year, such that it ends December 31, rather than March 31.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

Certain sectors are not open for domestic or foreign competition, including public transportation, electricity and water, steel, cement, and fuel distribution and marketing. In these sectors, a single semi-public company has complete or predominant control.

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 consortium was awarded the country’s second fixed-line license in September 2008. There is a minimum requirement of QR 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 the license will be granted only if authorities in Qatar deem that the field in which the applying firm specializes is of use to Qatar. On the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice, the Cabinet may reduce the number of required years’ 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. In April 2015, the QFC stopped issuing new licenses to foreign law firms in response to complaints leveled by local Qatari firms, alleging unfair competition.

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 undertaken in preparation for the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Since 2010, the Official Gazette of the State of Qatar has reported 118 decisions to expropriate private property and distribute it for public use. However, such expropriation is unlikely to occur in any of the investment zones where non-Qataris may purchase or obtain a right of 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) civil and commercial courts, and the regulatory tribunal, make up its Judiciary and the legal infrastructure. In addition, the court also 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 courts’ jurisdiction to enable it to accept other disputes at its discretion. The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Center adjudicates disputes of firms associated with the QFC based on the British common law system.

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 International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre the jurisdiction to oversee arbitration cases in the state of Qatar in line with recent local and international developments. The purpose of this new law is to simulate and strengthen the investment and business environment in Qatar.

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 (http://www.qfccourt.com/Judgement.html ).

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

In Qatar, there are two concurrent bankruptcy regimes. 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 keep a bankrupt business running and to 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 currently two firms in the U.K. offering full dissolution bankruptcy services to QFC-registered companies.

Investment Incentives

Qatar’s ambitious infrastructure development plans in the lead up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and in implementation of the 2030 National Vision provide significant opportunities for foreign investment in various sectors associated with this boom. In an effort to incentivize increased foreign capital investment, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce drafted a law to allow 100 percent foreign owned investment in all sectors, with the condition that the investor has a Qatari service provider. Currently, full foreign ownership is permitted in certain priority sectors, including information technology, sports and leisure services, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and tourism – following the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Additionally, the government 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.

  • Subsidized or nominal rates for gas and electricity.
  • No customs duties on imports of machinery, equipment and spare parts.
  • No quantitative quotas on imports.
  • No export duties or taxes on corporate profits for pre-determined periods.
  • Exemption from corporate tax for 10 years, and no income taxes
  • Low cost financing through Qatar Development Bank (QDB)
  • Liberal immigration and employment rules to aid the import of labor.

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

As part of the plans to achieve the National Vision 2030 and develop a knowledge-based economy, the government created the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), designed, in part, to be a hub for foreign technology companies to undertake research and development and in so doing transfer of expertise and technology to inform and improve Qatari human resources. The hub offers grants and incubators to foreign and local innovators. Companies operating at the QSTP can import goods and services duty free. Foreign entities wishing to invest in the QSTP apply for a license with the Park’s managing board. No other licensing rules prevalent in the country will apply to the above businesses, although individuals, contracts and agreements are 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. Microsoft, ExxonMobil, GE, Shell, Tata, Total, and ConocoPhillips are among QSTP member companies.

Businesses in the QSTP are exempt from all taxes, including income tax. The property of such a business is not to be seized under any circumstance, but capital and other cash can be seized on the orders of a local court. Equipment, machinery, or any other goods being imported for use by an entity doing business in QSTP are exempt from customs duty, and goods produced in the Park are not subject to export tax.

Goods being sold within Qatar, but outside the QSTP, are subject to the normal customs duty applicable to imported products. Flammable and radioactive materials, drugs, weapons, and explosives are banned from import by any of the licensed entities, unless the licensed entity obtains the necessary permit from the competent governmental authority and a written approval from the QSTP Board.

  • Manateq (Free Economic Zones)

In addition to the QSTP, Qatar established Manateq (formerly known as the Economic Zones Company), affiliated with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, to manage and develop economic zones. Manateq has started work on three economic zones in and around Doha, and anticipates the first phase of the first zone to be operational by 2017. Priority at the zones will be given to Qatari SMEs and nationals. A recent draft law was approved by the Country’s Cabinet in February 2016 allowing foreign companies 100 percent ownership of businesses in the zones. The law still requires Emiri approval.

  • Qatar Financial Center

QFC is an onshore business platform that allows international financial institutions, and companies providing professional services that would serve the World Cup 2022, to establish an office in Qatar with 100 percent foreign ownership. QFC permits 100% repatriation of profits, though locally sourced profits are subject to 10% corporate tax. The QFC has its own independent regulatory regime based on English common law. The QFC Regulatory Authority (QFCRA) 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 they are, as a matter of practice, enforced by the courts of the State of Qatar against persons and assets in Qatar.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Performance requirements for foreign investment in Qatar do not exist. Disclosure of financial and employment data is required, but proprietary information is not. Qatar also does not follow a “forced localization” policy in which foreign investors must use domestic content.

When competing for government contracts, preferential treatment is given to suppliers that use local content in bids and goods with Qatari content given a 10 percent price preference, while goods from other GCC countries receive a 5 percent price preference. As a rule, participation in government tenders with a value of QR 5,000,000 or less (equivalent to $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 No. 42/2014, under the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

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 Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) entities.

Under current legislation (Law 17/2004), foreign individuals may fully own land, buildings and construction in the following designated real estate projects: Pearl-Qatar, West Bay Lagoon, and Al Khor Resort Project, while 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. As part of a drive to attract foreign investment, real estate visas can now be granted to buyers, permitting foreign owners to reside in the country 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 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 hikes in rent during the lease period, and enforcement of the terms of the lease contract should the lessor transfers ownership to a new owner. A Leasing Dispute Settlement Committee has been established to enforce these regulations. The committee hears and issues binding decisions with respect to disputes between a lessor and lessee, 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. Some selected records and documents must bear the approval of the Real Estate and Residences Registration Office to be considered valid. 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 computerized format.

Qatar is ranked 26th globally in 2017 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 legal regime, albeit still developing in capacity, is strong and wide-ranging in terms of the number of laws protecting different types of intellectual property rights. Although Qatar has signed many international intellectual property treaties, within Qatar, local laws take precedence over regional and international laws, therefore, owners of trademarks, copyrights and patents depend mainly on Qatari laws and regulations for protection. These consist of the Trademark and Copyright law introduced in 2002, the Protection of Trade Secrets and Protection of Layout Design law passed in 2005, and a Patent Law introduced in 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 register at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, which has been mandated (by Law 20/2014) to enforce IP laws and regulations. Within the ministry, an Intellectual Property (IP) Protection department has been set up with offices focusing on Trademarks, Copyrights, Neighboring Rights, Patents, Industrial Property and Innovations. The following are the periods of validity for the different types of registered intellectual property:

  • Patents: valid for 20 years.

o With regards to pharmaceutical products, the Ministry of Health requires registration of all products imported into the country and will not register unauthenticated copies of products patented in other countries. However, Qatar will recognize products with GCC regional patent. To obtain patent protection in the GCC, the pharmaceutical company must apply for a GCC patent at the GCC Patent Office. Once granted, protection would extend to all the GCC countries.

  • Copyrights: protected for 50 years after an owner’s death.

o 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 Copyright Office 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 International Property Boarder 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 right holders to stop the release of imported products that constitute infringement of their rights, given sufficient evidence. The General Directorate of Customs and the Consumer Protection and IP Departments at the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, conduct surveys, raid shops and seize and destroy counterfeit products. In 2016, the Ministry 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 due to an increase in 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 but the IP 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.

Qatar is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and is a signatory to the following WIPO treaties:

  • WIPO Convention, since September 1976
  • Nairobi Treaty (Olympic Symbol), since July 1983
  • Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, since January 1996
  • Paris Convention (Industrial Property), since July 2000
  • Berne Convention (Literary and Artistic Works), since July 2000
  • WCT (WIPO Copyright Treaty), since October 2005
  • WPPT (WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty), since October 2005
  • Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patent Procedure, since March, 2014

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 .

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 all sectors provided the foreign investor hires a Qatari services provider. 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/local 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.

Qatar’s economic freedom score is 73.1, and Qatar ranks 29th in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. Its score has increased by 2.4 point since last year, according to the Heritage Foundation. Qatar is ranked second out of 15 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, 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 small and medium enterprises to encourage entrepreneurship and develop the private sector within Qatar.

Total banking assets reached $313.4 billion in the first quarter of 2016, an increase from total assets at the end of 2015. 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 one of the largest lenders in the region with more than $180 billion in total assets. Between the years 2010 and2014, Qatar’s banking sector was the fastest growing in the region. The IMF estimated in 2015, that 1.6 percent of Qatar’s bank loans were nonperforming.

Qatar’s banking sector remains strong despite tightening liquidity amid declining public sector deposits due to falling hydrocarbon sector revenues. The Qatar Central Bank, 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. Qatari regulations for local and foreign banks are the same. Licenses for new financial institutions are available through application to the Qatar Central Bank and financial institutions may also alternatively set up with the Qatar Financial Center and maintain full foreign ownership.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

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 QR 1.00 per $0.27 or $1.00 per QR 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.

Qatar has become an increasingly important banking and financial services center in the Gulf region. Despite the growth of the banking sector and increasing options for financial services, Qatar still has 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, the liberalization and growth in the real estate sector, uneven corporate oversight, 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) in 2010, which introduced a suspicious transaction 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 (MENAFATF), a FATF-style regional body.

In accordance with the Qatar Central Bank instructions on AML/CFT, the financial institutions must apply due diligence prior to establishing business relationships. Certain originator information should be secured where a wire transfer exceeds QR 4,000 ($1,098). Similarly, due diligence should be made when a customer is carrying out occasional transactions in a single or several linked operations of an amount exceeding QR 55,000 ($15,109) or equivalent in foreign currencies 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 $300 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 $100 billion (including Ooredoo and Qatar Airways) to the Ministry of Finance.

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

QIA was one of the early supporters of the Santiago Principles and among the few members which drafted the initial and final versions of the Santiago 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.

Similarly, 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 IFSWF 6th annual meeting, which resulted in the Doha Agreement, adopting a three-year strategic plan to ensure free flow of long-term global capital and strong real returns; with great emphasis on transparency.

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 Qatar’s local private sector and encourages small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) development as part of its 2030 National Vision. 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 state-owned enterprises:

  • 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 and RasGas, which are expected to complete a merger into the world’s largest LNG company by the end of 2017
    • Kahramaa (Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation) operates all water and electricity activities and is 90 percent owned by Qatari shareholders. The government owns 43 percent of the capital, but 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.
  • 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:
    • Q-Post (Qatar General Postal Corporation) 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 was introduced by Qatar Telecom in 2013 to replace Qtel, the former operating name. Ooredoo is a dominant player in the Qatari telecoms market and is 76 percent owned by QIA and other Qatari investors. Its revenues from outside Qatar currently constitute more than 75 percent of its total revenue. In 2007, the mobile products and services sector was opened to competition. In 2008, the fixed line telecoms market was also liberalized. Vodafone was selected to compete in both mobile and fixed line against Ooredoo, and is 96 percent-owned by Qatari shareholders. Both companies are listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange. Prior to 2007, both the mobile and fixed line telecoms markets in Qatar were dominated by Ooredoo.

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 Vodaphone Qatar lodged a complaint against the former for misleading advertisement.

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.

There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct principles. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce is planning to introduce a corporate social responsibility index for companies listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange in order to measure their “social commitment.” Many companies in Qatar already publicize their policies regarding corporate social responsibility.

The government is likely to continue emphasizing sustainable business practices in its upcoming Qatar Development Strategy 2017 – 2022 (to be released in the first half of 2017), as sustainability is an important goal in Qatar National Vision 2030.

Law 30/2002 is the main legislation on protecting the environment. It prohibits the use of polluting equipment, machineries, or vehicles, and restricts the dumping and treatment of liquid, solid wastes to certain designated areas. The law also limits emissions of harmful vapors, gases, and smoke for those operating in energy generating industry. This applies to all companies working in exploration and production of crude oil.

The Ministry of Economy and Commerce has a dedicated department for Consumer Protection and Combating Commercial Fraud, and it has intensified its efforts in the past few 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 has 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) conducts training sessions for migrant laborers to educate them on their rights in the country. However, full compliance has not been achieved are enforcement efforts are insufficient. 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.

Some NGOs in Qatar focus on labor rights and often work in conjunction with the government. Researchers from other NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continued to visit and report on the country with limited interference from authorities. International labor NGOs were able to send researchers into the country under the sponsorship of academic institutions and quasi-governmental organizations such as the NHRC.

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 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index. Qatar was ranked 31 of 176 globally with a score of 61 out of 100.

Qatari law imposes criminal penalties to combat corruption by public official, 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 a new decree (Emiri 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 help prevent official corruption and ensure that the various ministries, state agencies and their arms as well as their officials operate with transparency. The authority is charged with investigating alleged crimes against public property or finances perpetrated by public officials.

Additional, in November 2015, the Emir issued a law increasing penalties for corrupt officials, and in 2016 issued another legislation giving the State Audit Bureau more financial authority and independence, allowing it to publish parts of its findings, provided that confidential information is removed, something it was not previously empowered to do before.

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 $1,374.

By Emiri Decree No. 17/2007, Qatar ratified the UN Convention for Combating Corruption, and Emiri Decree No. 84/2007 established a National Committee for Integrity and Transparency. The permanent committee is headed by the chairman of the State Audit Bureau and is tasked with combating corruption in Qatar and reports directly to him.

Qatar is not a party to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. Qatar opened the Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law Center on November 25, 2012 in Doha in partnership with the United Nations.

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.

Qatar is a politically stable country with low crime rates. There are no political parties or labor unions, or any known organized domestic political opposition. The U.S. government believes the potential exists for acts of transnational terrorism to occur in Qatar. Potential investors and U.S. citizens are encouraged to stay in close contact with the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Doha for up-to-date threat information.

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 91 percent of the country’s population. Qatar’s labor force consists primarily of expatriate workers, and in the private sector foreigner make up over 99% of the labor force. Qatar’s current population is estimated at around 2.67 million as of February 2017, more than doubling in the last decade. Qatari citizens are estimated to number approximately 250,000 – approximately, one-tenth 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 the lowest in the region, with 0.1 percent unemployment rate for males, and 0.8 percent unemployment rate for females. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development Labor and Social Affairs (MADLSA) regulate recruitment of expatriate labor.

Localization policy (Qatarization) is a main focus of the country’s national vision. The aim is to increase national participation in both public and private sector, and reach 50 percent localization in the energy and industry sectors, and 90 percent localization in the government sector by 2026. There are no laws that obligate the private sector to hire nationals, but the public sector and institutions working closely with the government on projects and joint ventures are required to hire nationals – these include energy companies operating in Qatar. In hiring, qualified Qataris are given the priority in the public sector.

According to Law 14/2004, the current law that largely governs employment in Qatar, employment may be terminated with or 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 Center (QFC) are governed by the English Common Law, and labor issues are administered by QFC’s Regulation 10/2006. Employers are allocated visa slots for the hiring of specific nationalities and such positions are non-transferable without approval of the MADLSA. Employees may not transfer to new employers prior to the end of existing contracts unless with the consent of the employer and the MADLSA. Purchasing unemployment insurance is required by foreign workers from select countries as a matter of policy though it is not always enforced.

The 2004 labor law 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. Those working in the government sector, regardless of nationality, are prohibited from joining unions. Around three-quarters of Qatari citizens are employed by the government.

Employers set wages without government involvement and there is no minimum wage. 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 approved the formation of new Labor Disputes Committees headed by a judge and representatives from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Administrative Development Labor and Social Affairs. Such committees will operate outside of the traditional Supreme Judicial Committee structure and are required to address any complaints within three weeks.

In efforts to eliminate forced labor, the government issued in 2015, reforms to the sponsorship system, which allows employees to switch employers at the end of their contract, which can be up to five years, without the permission of their employer. The new reforms also allow employees to leave the country through a simplified process which includes a government panel which can review 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.

To combat the problem of late and unpaid wages, in February 2015, the government issued a law on Wage Protection mandating electronic payment to all employees subject to the labor law (it does not cover domestic workers). By November 2015, the government required all employers to open bank accounts for their employees and pay wages electronically through a system subject to audits by a new inspection division at the Ministry of Administrative Development Labor and Social Affairs. Employers who failed to pay their workers faced penalties of $550- $1,650 per case and possible prison sentences. The system currently covers over two million workers.

To protect workers from fraudulent employment contracts, in December 2016, the Ministry of Administrative Development Labor and Social Affairs signed an agreement with an international Swiss company to facilitate recruitment of expat workers from certain countries abroad, including monitoring of medical check-ups, verifying certificates, and signing work contracts in cooperation with the Ministry.

Qatar is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and claims that its labor law meets ILO minimum requirements though in a March decision of this year the ILO raised several concerns including weakness in the inspection regime, a lack of protections for domestic workers, and concerns over the recruitment system. Qatar has until November to address these concerns.

The Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC) suspended its operations in Qatar in 1995 due to concerns over labor practices. However, Qatar is working to improve its labor standards in order to reinstate OPIC coverage. Qatar is a member of the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

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) 2015 $164,190 2015 $164,641 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2015 $9,040 2015 $8,463 BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
Total inbound stock of FDI as percent host GDP 2015 22.9% 2015 22.8% Total inbound stock of FDI from all countries to Qatar, as percent of Qatar GDP (Total inbound FDI= $37.68 billion)

*Official local economic data are collected and shared by the Ministry of Development and Statistics. Yearend data for 2016 will be released during the first half of 2017. For more national statistics visit government portal: https://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, Billions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward Amount 100 % Total Outward Amount 100 %
Other American Countries $13.9 M 36 % Gulf Cooperation Council $8.4 M 30 %
European Union $12.4 M 32 % European Union $8 M 29 %
United States of America $8.9 M 23 % Other $4.5 M 16 %
Gulf Cooperation Council $1.9 M 5 % Other Arab Countries $4 M 14 %
Other $1.5 M 4 % Asia $3 M 11 %
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: Qatar’s Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics www.mdps.gov.qa 
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data on Portfolio Investment Assets not available.

Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy, 22nd February Street, Al Luqta District, P.O. Box 2399, Doha, Qatar

2017 Investment Climate Statements: Qatar
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