Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in economic growth and in the diversification strategy of Qatar, Qatar Chamber director general Saleh bin Hamad al-Sharqi said in his welcome speech during the ‘3rd SMEs Conference’ which organised by Qatar Chamber and the British Embassy in Qatar.
Al-Sharqi, who thanked the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the British Embassy in Qatar, and Qatar Development Bank (QDB), underscored the role and importance of SMEs in the development and growth of the economy saying, the sector contributes to productivity and generates job opportunities, which helps curb unemployment and poverty.
Citing statistics from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), al-Sharqi said that around 95% of projects around the world come from SMEs. Also, he said SMEs contribute 45% to the global GDP.
He said the government has put a premium in the development of the country’s SME sector because of its important role in keeping pace with new economic policies and global challenges, as well as its significance in realising the objectives of the Qatar National Vision 2030.
“The direction taken by government is also part of the ambitious plan to have more and different sources of income, and take steps towards a viable economy that is not dependent on the hydrocarbons sector anymore, and this is why SMEs play a vital role in achieving the national goals of Qatar,” al-Sharqi pointed out.
According to al-Sharqi, Qatar ranked 22nd globally among 137 countries in the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index Report. Also, Qatar was among the top 20 nations in World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business 2020’ list,’ he said.
Al-Sharqi stressed that SMEs and entrepreneurs played a significant role during the June 2017 economic blockade, citing efforts exerted by the state to develop the national industry, to accelerate procedures, and to achieve the self-sufficiency.
At the onset of the blockade, al-Sharqi said Qatar Chamber focused on local industries and the private sector, facilitating procedures for business owners to expedite their work and help them face the challenges of the economic blockade imposed against Qatar.
“This conference is also a good opportunity to talk about the pioneering experiences, such as those in the UK, which has close and distinguished bonds with Qatar,” al-Sharqi stressed.
He noted that the conference represented “an ideal opportunity” for identifying means of developing and promoting SMEs by reviewing the leading British expertise in this field, even as he affirmed that Qatar and the UK “enjoy distinguished co-operation relations at all aspects.”
Acting undersecretary for Trade Affairs at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Saleh bin Majid al-Khulaifi said that the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector is a key driver of the state’s economic diversification, and a tool to promote the country’s industrial and productive potential in line with Qatar National Vision 2030.
Al-Khulaifi said the state has accelerated the development of the SME vital sector by implementing “stimulating legislative and administrative frameworks.”
He said the government also launched national initiatives and programmes that support entrepreneurs and SMEs. Efforts were also made to make their products and services competitive in the local market, as well as initiatives to support their export capacities at the regional and global levels.
“Recently, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in co-operation with Qatar Development Bank (QDB), has launched the ‘Land and Industrial Loan’ initiative to provide support for Qatari investors and encourage entrepreneurs and SMEs to easily invest in the industrial sector. To build an open economy, the country issued and updated many laws, including one that allows foreign investors to own 100% in various sectors,” said al-Khulaifi, who also praised the “robust Qatar-UK relations.”
According to al-Khulaifi, Qatar-UK relations formed an impetus for the conference to shed the light on British expertise in SMEs sector. He also lauded Qatar Chamber’s role in organising events that support the private sector and enhance its contribution in the economic process of the country.
For his part, Simon Penny, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East said that bilateral trade between Qatar and the UK stood at £6.7bn, registering a 21% growth in 2019.
Penny said the UK supports more businesses in Qatar “than in any other country in the world” through the UK Export Finance. According to Penny, there are more than 700 British companies registered in Qatar, as well as many more that are seeking investment or collaborative opportunities across multiple sectors.
“We currently have more than £3.5bn worth of financial support to Qatar; there’s still an additional £1.5bn capacity that we have available, and this is available to Qatari companies that want to buy goods and services from the UK, and it is also available to UK companies that are involved in the supply chain and that are looking to de-risk some of the financial risks that come with doing business overseas,” he said.
As trade commissioner, Penny stressed his role to establish closer partnerships on a government-to-government level and work together to tackle common challenges and seek solutions that would benefit both nations.
The UK is home to some 5.8mn small businesses, almost all of which are classified as SMEs, Penny pointed out. Citing figures from the Federation of Small Businesses, Penny said these British companies have a combined turnover worth £1.9tn, and support 16.1mn jobs. He stressed that 60% of all private employment in the UK is in SMEs.
Qatar is well on its way in implementing its National Vision 2030, and preparing to host the World Cup in 2022; this offers enormous opportunities for partnerships between the UK and Qatar governments, its businesses, and its citizens, Penny said.
“The UK has made strides that attract investors, with an open liberal economy, world-class talent, and business-friendly environment. And it’s for those reasons that the UK is the main destination for Qatari investments,” he said.
“Events like this are so important in bringing together SMEs with investment opportunities here in Qatar. By investing in Qatar, British companies can have easier access to a range of opportunities by taking advantage of the new free zones and Qatar Airways’ global reach,” Penny pointed out.
The UK has, at the highest levels, committed to supporting these ambitious plans for the future across key areas where the UK could work closely with Qatar, Penny said, citing his meetings with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) and the Qatar Central Bank, as well as other organisations.
“The UK has now left the European Union (EU) giving us the freedom to negotiate, sign, and ratify new trade deals for the first time in 40 years. Qatar and the wider GCC are keen partners to the UK.
“In fact, bilateral trade between the UK and the Gulf grew by 90% in the last 10 years. And outside the EU, the Gulf is the UK’s seventh largest export market, second only the US,” Penny stressed.
He said the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the UK’s industrial strategy share themes from healthcare to clean growth, to technology and transport. “It’s in these areas that partnership between both countries would have a lasting and meaningful impact on future generations,” he added.
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