Qatar country brief

Overview

The State of Qatar occupies around 11,600 square kilometres 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. 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 an estimated population of over 2.3 million, with approximately 10 per cent citizens. A large proportion of foreign expatriates are Indian or Pakistani, followed by Iranians, Arabs and other nationalities.

Political overview

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.

Bilateral relations

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, set to double in 2016 with daily flights to Sydney and Adelaide.

It is estimated that 5,000 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 announced in May 2015 its plans to open  an Embassy in Doha. Establishment of the Embassy is planned for May 2016. Currently, Australia’s Embassy in Abu Dhabi has non-resident accreditation to Qatar.

Economic overview

Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita (per capita GDP (PPP) in 2015 was estimated at USD133,040), with 4.7 per cent real GDP growth in 2015. 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. 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. Several international institutions have campuses in Doha, including Georgetown University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Trade and Investment

Australia’s goods and services trade with Qatar was $1.75 billion in 2014-15. Australian exports totalled $717 million, an increase of approximately 23 per cent from 2013-14 ($581 million). Exports 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. 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 across a range of fields such as tourism, education, sports management, agriculture and infrastructure development.

Recent high-level visits

January 2016:  Visit to Qatar by Senator Colbeck, Minister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment

December 2015: Visit to Qatar by Teresa Gambaro MP (Head of Delegation) and Sharman Stone MP, members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into Australia's trade and investment relationships with countries of the Middle East visited the UAE.

April 2015: Visit to Qatar by the then 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: Visit to Qatar by the then Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr.

January 2012: Visit to Qatar by the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig.

Last Updated: 17 February 2016