Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sultanate of Oman: The Gulf countries attract companies from all over the world. In Qatar, Belgium is not lacking for various reasons.
Despite its small size and young age (the country has only been independent since 1971), Qatar has become an important economic player. The emirate, which is today highly criticized for issues relating to ethics, respect for human rights or global warming, is indeed a very attractive region for companies.
Despite its small size and young age (the country has only been independent since 1971), Qatar has become an important economic player. Today, the Emirate is highly criticized for issues related to ethics, respect for human rights or global warming, and the Emirate is actually a very attractive region for companies. “This is not to excuse Qatar for certain negative aspects surrounding the World Cup, but we are focusing too much on these issues when there is a huge and undeniable economic reality that we cannot ignore if ‘we want to develop our revenue'” , says François-Xavier Depireux, Belgian and founder of the company LD Export, which specializes in supporting SMEs in this region of the globe. With an area three times smaller than Belgium and with a very limited domestic market (less than 3 million inhabitants), “the country is one of the richest nations in the world”, recalls Dominique Delattre, inspector general of the Walloon geographical department. Export Agency (Awex). Its gross domestic product (GDP) per per capita is 85,660 dollars compared to the 48,210 dollars of Belgian GDP per inhabitant. A wealth that it mainly owes to its abundant reserves of fossil energy, primarily natural gas. For Belgium, the Emirate is therefore a major supplier of gas, which represented up to 90.64% of our imports from this country in 2021, well before the start of the war in Ukraine. But there is still a smaller trading partner: 70th customer from Belgium and 61st from Wallonia. Conversely, the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, mechanical and electromechanical machinery and equipment, metals and plastics are the main Belgian export sectors to Qatar. Exports that increased from 290 million euros in 2020 to 400 million euros in 2021 and even doubled between 2019 and 2021 from Wallonia thanks to the pharmaceutical and chemical sector (33.04 million euros). Qatar’s economy is still largely dependent on hydrocarbons, which account for 50% of wealth creation, 94% of exports and 80% of budget revenues. But the country has entered a new phase of development that wants to further diversify its economy, with growth also generated by other activities. “Apart from energy, the key sectors for Belgian companies are construction, sports and leisure and tourism”, emphasizes Dominique Delattre. “There are also opportunities for development in health and IT,” adds François-Xavier Depireux. “The renewable energy sector, waste water treatment and agro-industry are also sectors where development opportunities are interesting”, explains Qaisar Hijazin, Secretary General of the Belgian-Arab Chamber of Commerce. “The country is trying to follow the development of diversification initiated by Dubai and Saudi Arabia a few years ago”, analyzes the general inspector of the geographical department of AWEX, who recalls how much Dubai has become today a commercial stronghold, how large international fairs are held. “However, if Dubai has long been favored by companies, there is increasing interest in other countries in the region”, adds François-Xavier Depireux. For Belgian companies, these Gulf markets have become strategic. Due to limited local production, products and services from Europe are highly sought after and demand is constantly increasing, targeting the 40 million potential buyers in the region. And thanks to its emblematic investments abroad, Qatar benefits from a disproportionate leverage effect compared to its real weight. Enough to encourage Belgian companies to invest there? “This decision is important and requires careful reflection, admits Dominique Delattre. Qatar may find itself on the short list of Belgian companies wishing to invest in the region, but these are likely to favor another country whose market size is more important. But Qatar is a gateway to development in the Middle East, it is a very open country that benefits from a dynamism in terms of investment. “The Qatari market is small, it should not hope to do the same volumes as in Saudi Arabia” , admits. the founder of LD Export, installed in Bahrain for five years. But this small size precisely motivated Châssis Hanin to try the adventure there “It was interesting to be able to enter a market the size of Wallonia. It was more reassuring”, explains Mathilde Rutot, the head of the company, which opened a branch in Doha with perhaps different ambitions for the future. “What works in Qatar works in the other countries in the region”, recalls Qaisar Hijazin. ” Qatar is interesting in terms of growth, notes Arnaud Jacquemin, founder of the Belgian company Univers Drink, which offers festive non-alcoholic drinks and has been exporting to Qatar for eight years. The distributors’ turnover is, in relation to the size of the country, greater than others in the region.” In order to be able to develop an activity in the emirate, one primary criterion is nevertheless decisive: quality “Made in Belgium is recognized as a quality mark”, rejoices Qaisar Hijazin. But a criterion which is not necessarily sufficient. “Even a product without competition will not be enough to win the favor of a local decision-maker, warns François-Xavier Depireux. Because in Qatar the mentality, culture, habits and customs are extremely different. A word, a gesture, a smile, a frown, a yes, a no, a handshake, a hug… it’s all in the details to win the trust of future partners. But above all friendship. This is a fundamental relational value. It’s very different from Asia or the US.” Very few Belgian companies are actually active in Qatar. The Belgian-Arab Chamber of Commerce estimates their number at 40. The best-known company, and present for several decades, is the Besix group But Awex registered 20 to 30 requests for information from Walloon companies in 2021. “There has been a particular interest in Qatar for two years; The World Cup offers its share of opportunities”, acknowledges François-Xavier Depireux. But precisely because of the controversies surrounding this World Cup, few companies communicate easily about their investments, and they now avoid shouting from the rooftops that they do business with Qatar. ” confidential projects, explains Mathilde Rutot, whose company has a permanent office in Doha. It is clear that some aspects, according to my European perspective, could be improved, but I install chassis, I do not make politics and, above all, I do not give lessons.” “They are very young countries, recalls François -Xavier Depireux. From a European point of view, the efforts they are making to change are not enough, but in reality they are progressing by leaps and bounds.” “From my point of view, we are exporting Belgian know-how,” continues the head of Châssis Hanin. We are extremely well-regarded abroad. The specificity of Belgium means that we have a certain ease in understanding other cultures.” An observation shared by the founder of LD Export, which reminds how much Belgians tend to underestimate themselves when they can offer a real added value.