Learn about barriers to market entry and local requirements, i.e., things to be aware of when entering the market for this country.
Economic Overreliance on the Hydrocarbon Sector
Qatar’s continued reliance on hydrocarbons as a revenue source is evident in its fiscal forecasting. Despite efforts to promote the non-hydrocarbon sectors and diversify the economy from hydrocarbons to knowledge-based sectors, the oil and gas sector has consistently contributed to at least 80% of the government of Qatar’s total revenues since 2014, as well as 90% of Qatar’s total exports. Qatar’s multi-billion-dollar ongoing investment in infrastructure, including highways, public transportation, lodging facilities, and new stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup has generated steady growth in the non-hydrocarbon portion of GDP since 2018. However, as non-revenue generating investments, they are unlikely to significantly offset the existing reliance on hydrocarbons. Qatar is focused on its goals to diversify its economy and is investing in knowledge-based sectors like education, healthcare, and ICT to support this visionary goal of economic diversification. As host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2030 Asian Games, Qatar also has invested in its goal of becoming the sports hub of the Middle East. These initiatives will likely be bolstered by the new law governing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which the Amir signed in mid-2020. Economic diversification away from hydrocarbons is a main focus in the National Vision 2030, yet the North Field LNG expansion has reaffirmed that hydrocarbons will continue to remain the major player of Qatar’s economy.
The U.S. Commercial Service and the U.S. Embassy receive frequent reports of scams directed at U.S.-based firms. These scams often involve a nefarious person or entity posing as a legitimate Qatar-based entity or investor. U.S. firms that are approached by entities claiming to be Qatari representatives or investors, particularly if they request any sort of private information and/or advance fees, should contact the U.S. Commercial Service in Doha to confirm the veracity of the opportunity before proceeding.
Qatar generally encourages foreign investment and has enacted some key reforms in recent years to foster FDI. Qatar’s former foreign investment law (Law 12/2000) generally limited foreign investment and ownership of local entities to 49% of capital. As part of the government’s efforts to attract more foreign companies and investors to the Qatari market, a new foreign investment law was approved in January 2019 (Law 1/2019), allowing 100% foreign ownership in most sectors, with full repatriation of profits, protection from expropriation, and several other benefits. However, these new laws remain largely unproven and the processes to start a business remains sluggish and laden with red tape.
Additionally, regarding foreign ownership of real estate investments, the government enacted a law (Law 16/2018) to allow foreign individuals, companies, and real estate developers freehold ownership of real estate in ten designated zones and usufructuary rights up to 99 years in 16 other zones. This law also allows foreign real estate investors and owners to request residency in Qatar for as long as they own their property.
Procurement Law 24/2015 aims to promote a fair, transparent, simple and speedy tendering process. The law removed the Central Tendering Committee and created a Government Procurement Department within the Ministry of Finance which has oversight responsibility over most government tenders. The law also called for the forming of committees for tender disputes resolution, allowing two-stage tendering, and providing performance bond waivers for SMEs. Nonetheless, there are some persistent concerns regarding transparency in procurement by government entities, particularly due to a lack of clarity in the conditions and criteria of tenders, improper notification or explanation to non-qualifying companies, and the inability of bidders to formally challenge awards. Qatar gives preferential treatment to suppliers using local content in bids for government procurement. Bids for government contracts that contain goods with Qatari content are discounted by 10%. Participation in tenders with a value of QAR 5,000,000 ($1.37 million) or less is limited to locally registered contractors, suppliers and merchants. The Government Procurement Department also created a website Government Procurement Services, to consolidate all tenders with the goal of providing relevant information to interested bidders; unfortunately, not all government tenders are included in this portal. Qatar is not a signatory to the WTO Agreement on government procurement.
While this doesn’t present a major barrier, it is important for U.S. companies to make sure their products are not subject to import restrictions and that proper import duties are paid. The import duty for most processed food products is a flat 5% ad valorem. There are no import duties for live animals, fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, grains, flours, tea, sugar, spices, and seeds for planting. As a GCC country, Qatar applies the Unified Customs Law. This includes the imposition of a 5% tariff on the cost, insurance, and freight values of products such as textiles, apparel, and travel goods. An excise tax of 50% was introduced on energy and sugary drinks on January 1, 2019. A 100% excise tax was also introduced on alcohol and “specialty” products, including tobacco and pork.
Qatar has no import quotas. Non-tariff barriers, however, arise occasionally. For instance, unlicensed military and security items are not allowed. Furthermore, the sale of pork and alcohol remains heavily regulated, and sales are restricted to only one distribution point in all of Qatar, which is managed by the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC).
Standards and Labeling
As part of the GCC Customs Union, Qatar works with other member states toward unifying custom standards and conformity assessment regimes. Nonetheless, each member state is applying its own existing standards until a uniform GCC standard is set. The Embassy commercial team has received periodic complaints of European standards being favored over U.S. standards.
Food Labeling and Packaging
Labeling and marking requirements are compulsory for any products exported to Qatar. Labels must either be in Arabic only, or bilingual with Arabic as the second language. Labels must be applied prior to transportation. Production and expiration dates are required to be on all “original” food labels.
Corruption in Qatar does not generally affect business. Qatar ranks 31st in the world on Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, a position it shares with the Bahamas, with a score of 63/100 (with 100 being very transparent and 0 being very corrupt). While Qatar’s score reflects slightly less transparency than businesses can expect to find in the United States (67/100), Qatar has the second-most transparent score in the Middle East/North Africa region. However, with a very small population of Qatari nationals, the power of personal connections in Qatar plays a major role in the local business culture. Companies need to be very cognizant in selecting the right local partner. If companies opt not to open a local office, they should travel regularly to the market to ensure they maintain the necessary connections to succeed.
Stringent Covid-19 travel restrictions have been in place since March 2020, impacting business travel to/from Qatar. While Qatar has gradually reopened its borders throughout 2021 and 2022 depending on the level Covid-19 risk and vaccination status, U.S. citizens visiting Qatar are advised to monitor the U.S. Embassy’s website and the Qatar Ministry of Public Health Covid-19 website for the latest information and travel policies.