The potential free trade agreement (FTA) between the UK and the GCC may open more opportunities to boost Qatar’s exports, a top official of LuLu Group has said.
“We’re hoping that there would be an FTA between the UK and the GCC states very soon, which will be a huge game-changer,” Dr Mohamed Althaf, director, LuLu Group International, told Gulf Times during the recently-held ‘British Food Week’, which was launched at LuLu Mall, Giardino – The Pearl Island.
Dr Althaf said: “Qatar has always been an open economy; more than British food coming here, I see a lot of potential for Qatari products going towards the UK. Qatar has a world-class port and the country is offering a lot of incentives for smart manufacturing.
“I won’t be surprised if many companies from Asia would make Qatar their hub if there is an FTA with the UK. A lot of companies in the UK would definitely come here and set up their operations in Qatar, so I think that would give a huge boost to the trade between the two countries.”
According to Dr Althaf, many companies from the UK are realising the potential of Qatar and the wide acceptance of their products in the country.
During ‘British Food Week’, around British 24 companies participated directly with LuLu customers, said Dr Althaf, who noted that the majority of the UK food suppliers were first-time exporters to Qatar.
“The participating companies from the UK during ‘British Food Week’ were mostly small and medium companies that are innovating their food products and other items,” Dr Althaf explained.
LuLu used to buy products from the UK but since food suppliers there now understand the Qatari market, Dr Althaf noted that they want to be present on the ground and explore the market further to increase their exports to Qatar.
“LuLu believes in food security and in self-reliance. No country in the world can produce all of its food requirements, so widening our food sources will always give a guarantee for food security in Qatar, so we will look for more opportunities to import what is required in the country,”
At the same time, Dr Althaf emphasised that LuLu is also looking closely at localising its food sources. In the last five years, LuLu has increased the number of labels bearing the ‘Made in Qatar’ brand on its shelves, he stressed.
On LuLu’s expansion plans in 2023, Dr Althaf said the hypermarket chain is consolidating its resources and “would still continue” opening new branches across Qatar, citing the “high growth potential for the region.”
“Qatar has announced the expansion of its LNG production and there are many investments happening across different sectors in the country. All of the infrastructure investments made in Qatar is expected to result in a commercial outcome, which we believe will happen. The population in Qatar is increasing, so the country is continuing to grow, which is why LuLu has four more expansion projects in the pipeline this year,” Dr Althaf revealed.
Asked about LuLu Group’s participation in the recently-concluded SelectUSA Investment Summit, Dr Althaf lauded organisers for giving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Qatar access to the US market.
“For this latest edition of SelectUSA, there were more than 30 from Qatar’s private sector, which is a very huge delegation from the country. I am sure that all the participants from Qatar benefitted from their interactions in the US.
“This is the right time for any small company to venture into the US, especially if these SMEs want to expand or innovate. If they are not looking at the US market, I believe they are doing a huge mistake. The US remains the largest economy. SelectUSA will provide a much bigger boost to Qatar-US trade ties,” he stressed.
Dr Altahf also said LuLu has been focusing on automation and maximising the use of robots with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in its facilities in the US.
“I was very fascinated with what our current LuLu operations in the US have been working with a startup from MIT. Once that is successful, it would have a huge implication for Qatar.
“Qatar is in a stage where digital transformation is very much talked about and a lot of automation is happening; the country is right for it. Qatar is a young country and it has a very high Internet penetration rate. There is a lot of support from tech giants like Google and Microsoft, so the country is right for automation,” Dr Althaf emphasised.