Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you will probably know by now that the Middle-East’s very first FIFA World Cup tournament will be hosted by the Gulf state of Qatar in 2022; just five short years from today. Now I’m going out on a limb by assuming that between Trump, Kim Jong-un and the Kardashians, we will actually make it to 2022, so in that spirit of unbridled optimism, let’s explore some of the opportunities that this world-class event presents for British companies, large and small.
Firstly, a little about Qatar. Geographically the State of Qatar sits on the Qatar Peninsula on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and sticks out proudly into the Persian Gulf, or Arabian Gulf as it’s known in the Arab world (remember this if ever you visit). Its only land border is with Saudi Arabia in the south. In terms of land mass, Qatar is not much larger than the counties of Cornwall and Devon combined, maybe including Minehead but just not as far as Blue Anchor. So it’s quite compact; in fact smaller than the Falkland Islands but a lot less windy and fewer pubs. Politically, Qatar is a Sunni Islamic monarchy aligned to the ultra-conservative Salafi movement, similar to neighbouring Saudi and has a population of a little over 2.5m. In common with a lot of the small Gulf states, the native population is a small percentage of the total (12% Qatari in this instance). The remaining population consisting of a smorgasbord of 86 different nationalities, mostly from South-East Asia but including around 25,000 British expats. I don’t want to throw too many statistics at you at this time of day, but one figure which I know will get your attention is that Qatari’s have the highest per capita income in the world at $140,000 (GDP PPP), largely due to their huge oil and natural gas reserves. By comparison, the UK has a GDP equivalent of approximately $42,000 which is why we are not all driving Bentleys.
“Qatar is not much larger than the counties of Cornwall and Devon combined”
The UK is one of Qatar’s key trading partners. Qatari’s are significant investors in the UK economy and just recently, Liam Fox, Britain’s Secretary Of State for International Trade announced a doubling of export finance to support trade with Qatar to £4.5bn GBP: “No trade between the UK and Qatar should fail for lack of finance and insurance, that is why the UK government … can give buyers and sponsors in Qatar attractive long-term finance to make sourcing from the UK more competitive,” Fox told a Qatar-UK business forum in London on 27th March 2017. “We will be doubling finance available from UK export finance to support trade with Qatar to 4.5 billion pounds.”
So that’s the background. Now let’s talk about the really important stuff – football. It has to be said that the winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup was somewhat controversial for a number of reasons, not least because Qatar is hot – very hot. The average daily temperature from May to September is 37⁰C and often reaches well into the 40’s. Even the cooler winter months are equivalent to a warm summer’s day in the UK. This of course was the main reason the tournament is being played in November – December 2022 rather than in the usual summer months. What’s this got to do with the price of eggs I hear you ask? Well if your business is in the field of keeping tourists cool, fed and hydrated, then the estimated deluge of 1 million football fans may be of interest. But why wait until 2022 when there is an army of construction workers, engineers, and support staff of every ilk needing everything from PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to ice cream.
The launch of Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) strategic development plan in 2008 has given a major impetus to all manner of development projects. In addition to the construction of eight multi-billion dollar stadia for the World Cup, the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) announced in 2011 an injection of $20-$25bn USD in new tourism projects including tens of thousands of new hotel rooms. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) is the government agency with overall responsibility for delivery of the World Cup infrastructure and together with the Local Organising Committee (LOC), is responsible for the operations and planning. These agencies are the entry point to the World Cup programme but as with many Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, how you approach them can often be just as important as what you have to offer.
Of course it’s not all about the World Cup; Qatar is aiming to position itself as a rival to Dubai in many respects and this is reflected in the $1.8bn Doha Festival City project which opened in March of this year featuring sports, leisure, retail and food and beverage facilities. Even more impressive is the $48bn Lusail City project, north of Doha which includes golf courses, a theme park, two marinas and 22 hotels amongst many other weird and wonderful office and residential high rise buildings.
For UK plc, all of this development brings significant opportunities for companies involved in design, construction, infrastructure, landscaping, tourism, and all of the related industries and services such as water treatment, logistics, transport, training, education and so on. The list is endless so maybe it is easier to look at it from another perspective; what companies cannot benefit? Well in short, if your business is in alcohol or non-halal foodstuffs or supplies goods which include alcohol or pork derivatives such as cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, then don’t look at Qatar or any other Muslim country for sales as your products will most likely be embargoed. So take into account Islamic values when considering exporting to Qatar or the wider MENA region, but don’t jump to conclusions too quickly: Gulf women for example, are some of the highest spenders on fashion goods and cosmetics in the world, even if the Jimmy Choo’s and Ultimo’s are well hidden from public view.
UK plc has a real opportunity here to build on the British success story that is football, with an export drive to this very wealthy country with its high regard for British goods and services. So rather than watching from the side-lines, let’s up our game and get the ball rolling before I come up with any more metaphors.
Phil Broek MIEx
Hot off the press! April 3rd 2017. As I write, Qatar has lifted a self-imposed moratorium on development of the world’s biggest natural gas field as the world’s top LNG exporter looks to see off an expected rise in competition. The vast North Field offshore gas field accounts for nearly all of Qatar’s gas production and around 60 percent of its export revenue. Good news for any UK energy firms in this sector but also potentially good news for British industry and consumers as increased supply could well result in lower gas prices in the UK.