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 2.6 million (2018), with approximately 10 per cent citizens. 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. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
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. Qatar opened an Embassy in Canberra in early 2012, and Australia opened the Embassy in Doha in late 2016.
Aviation links have expanded significantly in recent years, aided by the opening of Doha’s Hamad International Airport in 2014. Qatar Airways have daily direct scheduled flights into Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. It is estimated that approximately 3,300 Australians reside in Qatar. The number of Australians visiting Qatar rose to around 34,000 in 2017 (from approximately 14,000 in 2014), as a result of improved aviation links.
Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita (per capita GDP (PPP) in 2017 was estimated at USD124,927.4) and enjoyed 2.5per cent real GDP growth in 2017. 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 has been the world’s leading exporter of LNG since 2006 and accounted for 41.6 per cent of global exports in 2017. Oil and gas represent nearly 60 per cent of Qatar’s gross domestic product.
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.
Economic diversification has emerged as a high priority in Qatar. Major infrastructure 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 trade with Qatar was $947 million in 2016-17 and services trade was $823 million. Australian goods exports totaled $572 million, an increase of approximately 4.8 per cent from the previous financial year. Exports are dominated by aluminium ores, meat, and live animals. Imports from Qatar are almost entirely fertilisers and LNG products.
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
November 2016: Visit to Qatar by Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs
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.