Qatar country brief
The State of Qatar occupies around 11,400 sq kms on the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeast coast of the much larger Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Gulf. A strait in the Gulf separates Qatar from the nearby island state of Bahrain.
Qatar has been ruled as an absolute and hereditary Emirate by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. The founder of the dynasty was Muhammed Al-Thani who ruled from 1868-76. The non-elected executive branch of the government comprises a Council of Ministers and an Advisory Council (Majlis al-Shura).
Formerly one of the poorest Gulf States, the country was noted mainly for pearl diving. It was a British protectorate until it gained independence in 1971. Oil was discovered in Qatar in 1939. Qatar has large oil reserves and the world’s third largest natural gas reserves (see below). Oil and gas revenue has, since 2007, made Qatar’s citizens the world’s richest per capita.
Qatar has a population of 1.9 million, with approximately 20 per cent having citizenship. The majority of residents are foreign expatriate workers, including other Arabs from Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon, as well as South Asians, Filipinos and Europeans.
On 25 June 2013, Highness (HH) Sheikh Tamim bin Khalifa Al Thani became the Emir of Qatar after his father, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, abdicated. The most important positions in Qatar are held by the members of the Al Thani family and their close confidants.
Both the Council of Ministers and Advisory Council (Majlis al-Shura), the latter which is made up of 35 appointed members, are chosen by the Emir.
Qatar was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It joined the United Nations in 1971 and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1996.
Australia enjoys a friendly and fast developing bilateral relationship with Qatar underpinned by commercial ties and complementarities between the two countries, notably in food supply and education. Aviation links have expanded significantly since 2011, with 14 Qatar Airways direct flights into Melbourne and Perth per week.
It is estimated that 4,500 Australians reside in Qatar and the number of Australians visiting Qatar (approximately 12,000-14,000 in 2013) is expected to increase. Airline links were aided by the opening of Doha’s new international airport and Qatar Airways’ entry into the Oneworld Alliance in October 2013.Qatar opened an Embassy in Canberra in early 2012. Australia does not have an Embassy in Doha; our Ambassador in Abu Dhabi has non-resident accreditation to Qatar.
Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita (US$110,000), with recent steady GDP growth of around 6 per cent per annum. Qatar’s main economic driver remains its LNG sector. Qatar has enjoyed strong economic growth as a result of the massive investments in its hydrocarbons industry. Qatar’s oil reserves total 15 billion barrels and its gas reserves are around 800 trillion to 900 trillion cubic feet from the giant North Gas Field (the second-largest reservoir of natural gas in the world, shared jointly with Iran). Qatar is now the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), with a capacity of more than 31 million metric tons per annum. The oil and gas sector represents over 60% of Qatar’s GDP.
Qatar’s industrial base is located at Messaieed, 45 kms south of Doha on the east coast of the peninsula. It includes a refinery with a 140,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity, a fertiliser plant for urea and ammonia, a steel plant and a petrochemical complex, with several new petrochemical plants planned.
Economic diversification has emerged as a high priority in Qatar and significant opportunities exist across a range of fields such as infrastructure development, construction, transport, hospitality and event management.
Major investments are planned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and to achieve Qatar’s National Vision 2030, with these two drivers estimated to be worth $285 billion in Government spending.
Qatar is attracting major global educational institutions to its “Education City” in Doha, in line with its aim of becoming a centre of educational excellence in the Gulf region.
Trade and Investment
Australia’s trade with Qatar recorded a 7 per cent increase in two-way merchandise trade in 2013 to reach $1.2 billion. Australian exports totalled over $502 million in 2013, an almost 1 per cent increase from the previous year. Australian exports are dominated by live animals, motor vehicles, meat and wheat. Imports accounted for over $724 million, an almost 12 per cent increase from 2012. Imports are almost entirely LNG products and fertilisers.
Qatar’s infrastructure development plans have generated renewed opportunities for Australian companies. Joint ventures between Australian and Qatari companies are becoming increasingly common and major Australian companies have operations in Qatar. Fewer than 50 Qatari students currently study in Australia, but education links are recognised by both sides as an area of potential growth.
Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund (Qatar Investment Authority) is a valued source of foreign direct investment in Australia. Qatar has invested significantly in Australia’s wheat, barley and other grain-producing farms, and sheep properties, to support its food security strategy.
QIA’s subsidiary, Hassad Food, has already invested in rural property in Australia in support of its food security strategy. QIA also has investments in Australia’s resources sector.
Demand for Australian live animal exports, food, and meat products will continue to grow. Opportunities also exist to increase the number of Qataris studying in Australia and in the areas of rail, tourism and hospitality, sports management and agriculture.
High level visits
August 2014: Visit to Australia of Minister Professor Al-Misnad, President of Qatar University.
May 2013: First bilateral visit by a serving Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon. Senator Bob Carr.
January 2012: Then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry the Hon. Senator Joe Ludwig visited Qatar.
December 2011: Then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Kevin Rudd visited for the 4th UN Alliance of Civilisations Forum.