DOHA: The UK-Qatar economic partnership is currently very strong in both directions with the two countries having seen a jump in bilateral trade figures last year, British ambassador Nicholas Hopton told Gulf Times.
UK exports to Qatar posted a 74% surge compared to the 2013 figures, Hopton said. On the other hand, Qatar’s trade with and investment in the UK are also growing from strength to strength, he said.
“The Qatar Investment Authority had bought the holding company for a lot of big hotels in London, very famous hotels,” he said. “Qatar owns most of Claridge’s hotel and more recently a few weeks ago, it was concluded for Qatar to buy the remaining part of Canary Wharf in the city, east part of London.”
Trade volume between Qatar and the UK reached around $4bn in 2014, about $2.5bn of which was derived from goods and another $1.5bn from services.
Hopton said these are indications that the economic partnership between the two countries is heading in the right direction.
Asked about the reaction of British businessmen regarding Qatar’s growing investment in the UK, the envoy stressed that they value such foreign investments and there was no feeling of resentment among the locals.
“The UK is open for business. That is part of how we work in the UK, we welcome foreign investments, foreign activities and we have always been an island trading nation,” he said. “The general mood among the British public is to welcome investments and we are not a protective nation, it is not part of our tradition.”
“Napoleon called us a nation of shopkeepers but I would amend that slightly to say that we are a trading nation, and we do it naturally,” Hopton added.
The envoy pointed out that they recognise the benefits that can be brought to the UK economy from abroad, citing the international confidence in their country as a place to do business.
While Qatari investment generally headed towards London due to relatively straightforward rules on doing business, he cited the growing interest from Qatari investors (government or private) to invest outside London. He said the British government is doing significant developments in Birmingham and across the north of England with high-speed rail links.
“These are all opportunities for Qatari investors including in the energy sector where the opportunities are very big and mutually beneficial,” Hopton said.
About the possible effects of the UK elections from May 7, Hopton said the UK’s relationship with Qatar is unlikely to change the direction radically.
He expressed confidence that both countries will continue working together in the political, security and economic sphere. “I expect this to continue to grow and deepen as well.”
The UK government is also focusing on supporting its small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Hopton said.
The envoy said the new British Chamber in Doha, opened in January, is a government initiative designed to support UK SMEs looking to explore new markets.
“Traditionally, UK SMEs have not been as strong abroad as say the SMEs of some of our European partners,” Hopton noted. “Our big companies tend to do very well, but the SMEs need a bit of encouragement and support.”