The State of Qatar occupies around 11,600 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 dynasty was founded by Muhammed Al-Thani in 1868. 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 2.2 million, with approximately 10-20 per cent having citizenship. A large proportion of foreign expatriates are Indian or Pakistani, followed by Iranians, Arabs and other nationalities.
On 25 June 2013, His 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 the Advisory Council (Majlis al-Shura, 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 2014) is expected to increase. Airline links have been aided by the opening of Doha’s Hamad International Airport in 2014 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 (per capita GDP (PP) in 2014 was estimated at US$144,400, in 2013 USD), with recent steady GDP growth of over six 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 are over 25 billion barrels and its gas reserves are over 25 trillion cubic metres. 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 approximately 50 per cent of Qatar’s GDP.
Qatar’s industrial base is located at Mesaieed, 50 kms south of Doha on the east coast of the peninsula. It includes a refinery with a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day, a fertiliser plant for urea and ammonia, a steel plant and a petrochemical complex. The Ras Laffan Industrial City, located 80 kms north of Doha, is the main site for production of LNG and includes Qatar’s first condensate refinery, which has a processing capacity of 146,000 barrels per stream day. A second refinery is expected to come online in 2016.
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 was $1.09 billion in 2013-14, a decline of 10.9 per cent year on year. Australian exports totalled $491 million; they are dominated by live animals, motor vehicles and meat. Imports from Qatar 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 increasing and major Australian companies have operations in Qatar.
Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund (Qatar Investment Authority and its subsidiary, Hassad Food) is a valued source of foreign direct investment in Australia, with total investment approximately $16 million in 2014. Qatar has invested significantly in Australia’s wheat, barley and other grain-producing farms, and sheep properties, to support its food security strategy. Qatar Investment Authority also has investments in Australia’s resources sector. Demand for Australian live animal exports, food, and meat products are expected to continue to grow.
Opportunities also exist to increase the number of Qataris studying in Australia and to boost collaboration in the areas of tourism and hospitality, sports management, agriculture and infrastructure development.
Recent high-level visits
April 2015: Visit to Qatar by Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb, the first bilateral visit to Qatar by an Australian Trade Minister.
August 2014: Visit to Australia of Minister Professor Al-Misnad, President of Qatar University.
May 2013: First bilateral visit to Qatar 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.