Qatar - Country Commercial Guide
Market Overview

Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, and other issues that affect trade.

Last published date: 2020-11-17

The U.S. and Qatar enjoy a strong commercial, economic, political, and security relationship. In 2019, Qatar’s real gross domestic product (GDP) contracted at a rate of 0.18%, according to the World Bank. Even though Qatar has just 300,000 citizens, it enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita in the world and looks to overseas partners to achieve strategic goals, creating opportunities for U.S. businesses. While the contraction has deepened to 4.3% thus far in 2020, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic and low hydrocarbon prices, the International Monetary Fund estimates Qatar’s real GDP growth will rebound to 5% in 2021.  U.S. exports to Qatar increased by 47.7% from 2018 to 2019, totaling $6.5 billion in 2019.  U.S. companies performed well in the market, particularly in the energy, defense, technology, and engineering sectors, among others.

Despite Covid-19 macroeconomic contractions, Qatar remains among the most fiscally stable markets in the Gulf. In April 2020, Moody’s labeled Qatar’s currency peg as “credible” thanks to the GOQ’s solid asset buffers, which include over $35 billion in net international reserves at Qatar Central Bank and $30 billion worth of liquid assets, in addition to the more than $300 billion in assets held by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).  Qatar’s strong fundamentals have helped boost confidence in the Qatari riyal and have enabled the country to maintain its currency peg to the U.S. dollar, the only currency regime in the GCC region not to come under stress during the double crisis of rock bottom oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic.   

As a global leader in liquified natural gas (LNG) extraction, Qatar’s national oil and gas company, Qatar Petroleum (QP), is an important player both in Qatar and globally. QP is currently in the midst of its North Field LNG Expansion, which will increase LNG production in two phases. The first phase of North Field project is expected to increase capacity by 43% from 77 million tons per annum (mtpa) to 110 mtpa by 2025. The second phase, called the North Field South Project (NFS), will further increase the production capacity from 110 mtpa to 126 mtpa a total of 64% increase by 2027. This project includes the development of six LNG mega trains, creating significant opportunities for U.S. energy companies. Since the onset of the Gulf Rift, QP has inked several long-term supply agreements with companies in Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Pakistan and announced a flurry of overseas acquisitions in hydrocarbon blocks in Brazil, Oman, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Cyprus, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya, Guyana, and Cote d’Ivoire. In 2019, QP invested $18 billion in the U.S. energy sector in the Golden Pass Terminal ($10 billion) and a petrochemical plant on the Texas Gulf Coast ($8 billion).

The Qatari government has continued its focus on initiatives and efforts to diversify the economy and reduce excess spending, under the plan known as Qatar National Vision 2030. Qatar’s infrastructure and transportation sector has been a key focus of spending in recent years, with projects such as the Hamad International Airport expansion, the last phase of the new Hamad Port, numerous road and highways projects, and the creation of the Doha Metro train network (three lines).  In addition to supporting Vision 2030, these projects are timely and near completion as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the world’s largest sporting event.  The 2020 national budget priority shifted from hard infrastructure toward Vision 2030’s goals for education and healthcare infrastructure, in addition to initiatives supporting Qatar’s already robust efforts and achievements to reduce dependency on foreign-produced food. These initiatives will likely be bolstered by the new law governing Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which the Amir signed on May 31, 2020.  The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) has led efforts on the PPP law, along with other agencies including the Ministry of Finance.

Qatar has proven its resiliency in recent years, despite regional unrest and the Gulf Rift.  On June 5, 2017, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade relations with the State of Qatar and imposed a series of travel, trade, and economic restrictions, including closing the Saudi-Qatar land border, blocking airspace to Qatari-registered aircraft, and limiting certain maritime traffic. The Rift has completely halted all direct routes between these four countries and Qatar, impacting the movement of trade and people to this day. Post-Rift, Qatar moved quickly to establish other sources of imports and continues that effort under its national food security goals. In many cases, this need to diversify trading partners has created new opportunities for U.S. suppliers, as well as other regional partners, such as Turkey, Oman, Kuwait, and India. 

Given the complications surrounding the Rift, U.S. companies are increasingly seeking direct representation in Qatar versus handling via a regional office elsewhere in the Gulf. U.S. companies are encouraged to engage directly with their local Qatari partners, representatives, or agents to ensure business continuity and alternatives for sourcing and shipping of U.S. goods into Qatar.  The U.S. Embassy in Doha and the U.S. Commercial Service continue to closely monitor the restrictions imposed on Qatar and provide guidance and support to U.S. companies wishing to enter the market, as well as those already doing business in the country. For the most up-to-date information, please reach out to the U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Doha.