Flag of Qatar

Qatar country brief

General information

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 Persian 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 Persian Gulf states, the country was noted mainly for pearl hunting. 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 now made Qatar one of the world’s richest countries 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 Palestine Territories, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon, as well as South Asians, Filipinos and Europeans.

Political overview

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, voluntarily 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 Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  It joined the United Nations in 1971 and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1996.

Economic overview

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.  The Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup requires a major investment in Qatar’s infrastructure, with over $600 billion allocated for this purpose.  This includes a new international airport, ports, rail networks, road upgrades, hotels and stadiums.

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.  

Bilateral relationship

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.  The two countries also share a common interest in regional security.  There are over 4,000 Australians resident in Qatar.  Aviation links have expanded significantly since 2011, with Qatar Airways direct flights into Melbourne and Perth. 

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.

The first bilateral visit by a serving Australian Foreign Minister, the Hon Senator Bob Carr, took place in May 2013.  Other visits to Qatar in recent times include the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, in December 2011 for the 4th UN Alliance of Civilisations Forum, and then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry the Hon Senator Ludwig in January 2012. 

Commercial relations

Two-way merchandise trade with Qatar in 2012 totalled $1.15 billion, an increase from $870 million in 2011.  2012 merchandise trade comprised Australian exports of $498 million and imports totalling $652 million.  Key exports included passenger motor vehicles and live animals. 

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.  The number of Qatari students currently studying in Australia is small, 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.

Updated September 2013