What Opportunities Exist for US-Qatar Relations?

qatar1The Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, from the podium at the United Nations in September, called for an Arab-led intervention force to quell Syria’s civil war. Two weeks ago the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of $6 billion in missile defense systems to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Days later Qatar submitted a new $10 billion request for interceptor missiles to fill those launchers.

The biggest news, which has gone unnoticed in the US media, is the completion of the secret advanced radar installation in the Qatari desert. This is the backbone of a system to defend and deter Iranian military threats to European nations, regional allies, energy and military installations of strategic value to the US in the Middle East.

Al Udeid airbase outside Doha is a strategically vital American military base. Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were commanded from this CENTCOM forward operating base in Qatar. It is in Washington’s interest to encourage Qatari regional and global leadership on shared interests. Enhanced US-Qatar cooperation would improve our prospects for opening the region to more trade with the United States. As our military posture in the region recedes we must focus on improving international trade ties.

The US-Gulf Cooperation Council Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (US-GCC TIFA) signed in New York between the United States Trade Representative and the Trade Ministers of the GCC member nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) is a good first step but Washington should step-up its bilateral and multilateral trade diplomatic efforts. Arab Gulf trade relations are rapidly expanding with American economic competitors, especially China, Brazil and South Africa.

Our next efforts in the Gulf should be to negotiate Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) and a US-GCC Free Trade Agreement. If the GCC expands to include Jordan and Morocco, both countries with Free Trade Agreements with the US, then there will already be a model and mechanism in place from which a US-GCC FTA could be negotiated. Washington should lay the groundwork now for this potential scenario and institute lessons learned from the US-Panama and US-South Korea FTAs, as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. This could serve as a basis for future US FTAs with other Arab countries and potentially further open lucrative energy markets in the region to smaller American companies, increasing competition and bringing value to American and Arab regional companies.

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A note of praise is also due to the UAE which, like Qatar, is an important American ally in the region for a range of reasons from security to commerce and education. Qatar and the UAE are our most capable and willing allies in the Gulf. Cooperation with Qatar should be expanded from defense sales to focus on high-technology manufacturing, educational exchanges, and technology transfer to form a much deeper and wider relationship. It is possible to greatly improve the US-Qatari relationship.

A model is German-Qatari and French-Qatar cooperation. A quick look at the German-Qatari relationship shows strong industry ties which have produced heavy Qatari investment into the German auto industry. Qatar Investment Authority owns a sizable share of VW and Porsche. German-Qatari business relations are also strong in energy and telecommunications. France is a historically close ally of Qatar and many of the Qatari elite have second homes or vacation in France. Qatar has invested heavily in French cultural brands and real estate.

Opportunities in Qatar include the banking, IT, construction and food sectors among many more. The World Cup 2022, National Vision 2030, National Health Strategy 2011-2016 and continual Qatari Olympic bids ensure a robust and growing Qatari retail sector for decades to come. A stable banking and business environment and highest GDP per capita in the world showcases the healthy economic growth and wise bureaucratic decision-making by the Qatari government. Any recovery in the US economy will involve greatly expanding international trade. President Obama has done a good job of continuing to open foreign markets but more effort is essential to opening overseas markets to American businesses, and to attracting Middle Eastern investors to take a stake in our domestic markets.

Alex Kennedy worked for International Business-Government Counsellors (IBC) from 2007-2010 where he was Deputy Director of the Executive Council on Diplomacy. He recently left the United States-Qatar Business Council. With his company Kennedy Consulting International he specializes in US Federal Executive Branch government relations and multinational corporate business development. He helps small companies understand how to navigate the government and benefit from that knowledge. He also works for medium to large-sized companies looking for international investment and market expansion, especially in Qatar, the Gulf and the wider Middle East.

  • The Qatari Emir officially sanctions this article.