Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Peter Alagos
Peter Alagos
Peter Alagos reports on Business and general news for Gulf Times. He is a Kapampangan journalist with a writing career of almost 30 years. His photographs have been published in several books, including a book on the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption launched by former Philippine president Fidel V. Ramos. Peter has also taught journalism in two universities.
cWallet Services CEO and founder Michael Javier.rnrn
Qatar ideal venue to develop startup ideas: Entrepreneur

Qatar is seen as an ideal environment to grow and develop startup ideas not only because of its entrepreneurship culture but mainly for its strong private sector and government support, a tech entrepreneur has said. “I believe Qatar is a good place to launch a startup idea because of the incubation programmes it offers. It’s also a good place to look for investors, amid the government’s initiatives to promote a smart city, a cashless society, and promoting Qatar as a business hub to the world,” said Filipino national Michael Javier, the CEO and founder of cWallet Services. With technology at the forefront since the start of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Javier noted however that there are still several challenges tech startups have to overcome to address the needs of the market. “Based on my personal observation, Covid-19 has affected startups that were on their very early stages. On the other side, startups that were in the delivery, healthcare, and e-Commerce business had a huge surge in demand and sales. “It was almost a good launch pad for us but we’re not ready with all features that we’re trying to promote, which includes cross-border payments and remittance,” Javier told Gulf Times. Asked if there would be a continuous growth in startups in the coming period and what factors would sustain business operations, Javier stressed that in terms of competition a startup’s success would depend on how it meets the needs of its customers. “According to a fellow startup owner, there was a 20% decline in their business as the country initiated Phase 4 of limiting Covid-19 restrictions, meaning individuals will still be going to shopping malls and buy on their own. “And this is aside from the fact that there are now lots of players both local and international that will compete with each other, so it all goes down to customer satisfaction and customer retention in order to keep a bigger market share,” Javier explained. Asked to identify startups in Qatar that have taken centre stage since the onset of the pandemic, Javier said: “I believe startups like AtHomeDoc and Meddy that focus on healthcare have taken centre stage. The plus factor is that they are ready to serve customers unlike other players that are in the early stages. They will be more attractive to investors, as well.”

An Airbus A380 passenger aircraft, operated by Qatar Airways, passes residential rooftops as it prepares to land at London Heathrow Airport in London (file).
Qatar-UK trade stood at $9bn in 2019; range of exports to Qatar ‘growing’, says envoy

The UK has been witnessing growth in its exports of goods and services to Qatar, even as trade between both countries stood at around $9bn in 2019, British ambassador Jon Wilks has said. Speaking at the virtual forum "Bilateral & Synergistic Opportunities between Qatar and the United Kingdom" hosted by Doha Bank on Wednesday, Wilks underscored both nations’ growing trade and investment relationship. “We are buying more gas from Qatar, so in that direction that is of increasing importance. We are a growing exporter of a range of goods and services into Qatar, which makes us the third largest supplier into Qatar,” said Wilks, who added that “Qatar is the UK’s third largest market in the region.” “In my initial calls to ministers and senior officials on the trade and investment side, it is quite clear that both countries want to take that further and see if their economies will recover from Covid-19 leading to growth in trade and investments,” the ambassador continued. The forum, which was hosted by Doha Bank CEO Dr R Seetharaman, also featured Jinoos Shariati, first secretary at the British embassy in Qatar and director of Trade and Investment at the Department of International Trade; Bandar Reda, CEO and secretary general of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce UK; Engineer Nasser al-Ansari, chairman of Just Real Estate; and Richard Whiting, chief representative, Doha Bank UK Representative Office. Wilks said that while Covid-19 sent shockwaves across global economies, the pandemic “also accelerated some positive trends,” such as the growing relationship between the UK and Qatar in trade and investments. Wilks, who described Qatar and the UK’s political relationship as “in great shape,” said “a lot of high-level political contact” was held between the leaders and top officials of both countries in the past six months. He also underscored the role played by the Qatari government, especially Qatar Airways, in the repatriation of British tourists and travellers at the height of the health crisis and for the country’s “immense support during this very difficult time.” Aside from political ties and a growing trade and investment relationship, Qatar and the UK witnessed “increasing defence and security co-operation,” a part of which would be delivered in Qatar and the UK’s partnership in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Wilks noted. “UK ministers have recently focused on the World Cup as part of looking ahead for the next two years, and we are ambitious for our partnership, not just on security but to help Qatar deliver a carbon neutral and inclusive World Cup, which welcomes everybody from all over the world,” Wilks pointed out. With investments in the UK now at the “£40bn mark,” Wilks said Qatar is “very interested and willing” to expand its investments further, citing projects like the LNG terminal in Milford Haven. Wilks also said Brexit would open opportunities for trade deals with the six member states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). “A result of Brexit will mean that we can negotiate trade deals with markets beyond Europe; one of those deals could be with the GCC as a whole. We’re actually starting with a trade and investment review between the UK and all the Gulf markets and see what would work best for both sides,” he said.

HE the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari during the ,Supporting Local Manufacturers Forum, held on Tuesday in Doha.
Number of factories in Qatar reach 915 in 2020, says MoCI official

The number of factories operating in Qatar has reached 915 in 2020, a 17% increase compared to 2017, an official of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) reported during a virtual forum on Tuesday. “Qatar’s focus on encouraging the growth of local industries and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and increasing its contribution in the implementation and development of several economic projects has reflected positively on the industrial sector,” said Mohamed Hassan al-Malki, assistant undersecretary for Industry Affairs at MoCI, during the "Supporting Local Manufacturers Forum". It was organised by Public Works Authority (Ashghal), in collaboration with Qatar Chamber, and was held in the presence of HE the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari, as well as Public Works Authority (Ashghal) president, Dr Eng Saad bin Ahmad al-Muhannadi, Qatar Chamber chairman Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar Development Bank (QDB) CEO Abdulaziz bin Nasser al-Khalifa, and other officials and local companies. The forum was part of MoCI’s efforts to support local industries and enhance the competitiveness of local products on national, regional and international levels. It offered the opportunity for the private sector and local manufacturers to actively participate in government initiatives, especially Ashghal’s projects, which include the development of schools and health institutions, in addition to highways, infrastructure, sewerage and storm water drainage networks, treatment plants, and beautification projects. During the forum, the minister lauded Qatar Chamber and Ashghal for organising the forum, and stressed its significant role in highlighting the promising investment opportunities that the state offers to local manufacturers in all sectors, especially in construction, which has witnessed a significant expansion in recent years in light of the development projects related to the achievement of the Qatar National Vision 2030 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup projects. In his speech, al-Malki said MoCI has worked with Ashghal in the preparation of the forum to determine targeted sectors, which include construction, minerals, chemicals, rubber, electrical equipment, machines, and transportation equipment. He added that more than 100 factories will benefit from the forum, pointing out that MoCI is currently working on organising similar events with other government agencies, and has held workshops with Qatar Airways, in co-operation with QDB to enhance the ability of local manufacturers to fulfil the needs of the national carrier. Al-Malki said MoCI is keen to support local products through the establishment of the National Products Competitiveness Support Department, which specialises in combating harmful practices against local products, and suggesting needed procedures and price pledges to maintain competitiveness in accordance with the law on supporting the competitiveness of national products at the international level. This law aims at encouraging industrial facilities to provide high-quality local products that are able to compete with imported products, with prices that match the needs of local market, al-Malki said. He said the National Products Competitiveness Support Department has organised a number of meetings with the different ministries, as well as government and semi-government agencies to enhance the competitiveness of national products by supporting their quality, in line with the specifications and standards determined by the recently launched "Qatar Quality Mark" system, and by determining the available opportunities in the tenders offered by government agencies to Qatari products. In a presentation, Abdulbasit al-Ajji, director of the Supporting National Product Competitiveness Department at MoCI, said the ministry is supporting and enabling local industries by communicating with government and semi-government authorities to support and enable local products, and to help them overcome difficulties that face local manufacturers and factories.

QDB CEO Abdulaziz bin Nasser al-Khalifa and Qatar Chamber chairman Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani.
Qatar sees ‘massive breakthrough’ in infrastructure projects, say Qatar Chamber chairman

Qatar has witnessed a “massive breakthrough” in projects the government is implementing to develop the country’s infrastructure, as well as in construction related to preparations to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar Chamber’s top official said on Tuesday. Speaking at the "Supporting Local Manufacturers Forum", Qatar Chamber chairman Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani said the mega projects require “a lot of materials and devices to complete, according to the required standards and metrology.” “This breakthrough provides a great opportunity for factories and local companies to provide the required building materials used in the completion of these projects, which contributes to enhancing their competitiveness and the development of their products, according to the international standards and also reach global markets,” Sheikh Khalifa said in a speech. He stressed the importance of empowering national industries and considering local products as “the best option” for governmental entities in implementing mega projects in the country and through public tenders that are offered. He said national industries have the appropriate experience and advanced technology that enable them to participate effectively in major projects being implemented in the country. Sheikh Khalifa expressed “full confidence” that the Qatari private sector and local factories are able to address the needs of the projects implemented by Ashghal, “thus enhancing the true partnership between the public and private sectors.” He said the aim of the virtual forum is to introduce the current and future projects of Ashghal, thus providing an opportunity to support Qatari manufacturers and local suppliers to increase their contribution to these projects. This would also encourage businesses to invest in the industry and establish new factories that meet the requirements of these projects. “This confirms that Ashghal’s vision is fully-consistent with Qatar Chamber’s vision to rely on Qatari capabilities and products, increasing the participation of Qatari factories in the country’s development projects, and encouraging investments in the construction of new factories that contribute to the requirements of current and future projects,” Sheikh Khalifa said. During the forum, Qatar Development Bank (QDB) CEO Abdulaziz bin Nasser al-Khalifa said QDB’s strategy supports Qatari manufacturers and open local markets to them. “QDB is keen to translate these plans through a series of various programmes and initiatives, such as the leasing complete and ready-to-operate industrial facilities ‘Jahiz 1’ and ‘Jahiz 2’ initiative to help them turn their ideas into tangible goods and products, as well as the ‘Business Localisation’ service to identify business opportunities and investments from government, semi-governmental and private entities, organising exhibitions and conferences that contribute to the communication with major buyers. “We aspire to continue emphasising our strategy through these platforms that serve the country’s objectives of self-sufficiency and diversification of the economy in line with Qatar's National Vision 2030,” al-Khalifa said.

HE Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari , Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani and Dr Saad bin Ahmad al-Muhannadi, participating in the forum
Ashghal to use local products worth QR 26bn in five years

*Huge scope for manufacturers of building materials *Public Works Authority's reliance on locally made goods goes up to 70% from 38% in four years The reliance on main local materials has increased from 38% in 2016 to 70% this year, while the local market has benefited from about QR20bn from infrastructure and building project budgets between 2016 and 2020, Public Works Authority (Ashghal) president Dr Saad bin Ahmad al-Muhannadi has said. He made the statement on Tuesday during the Supporting Local Manufacturers Forum where he further announced that the value of materials from the local market over the next five years is estimated at QR25.6bn to meet the requirements of future infrastructure projects and buildings. Ashghal, in co-operation with Qatar Chamber, organised the Supporting Local Manufacturers Forum via video conferencing on Tuesday in the presence of HE the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari. The forum was part of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry's efforts to support local industries and enhance the competitiveness of local products at the national, regional and international levels. It offered an opportunity for the private sector and local manufacturers to actively participate in government initiatives, especially Ashghal’s projects, which include the development of schools and health institutions in addition to highways , infrastructure, sewerage and storm water drainage networks, treatment plants and beautification projects. Besides HE al-Kuwari and al-Muhannadi, the conference was attended by Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Thani, chairman of Qatar Chamber; Abdulaziz bin Nasser al-Khalifa; CEO of Qatar Development Bank (QDB); and representatives of the government agencies as well as local manufacturers and investors. “By relying on local materials and manufacturers in most of the authority’s projects and increasing the percentage of the local component, we aim to contribute to enhancing the competitiveness of the national industry and diversifying investment activities, and supporting local production activities in the infrastructure and contracting sector to compete with their counterparts globally, in line with Qatar National Vision 2030,” al-Muhannadi said. The virtual event aimed to encourage reliance on national products in Ashghal’s projects and to encourage local companies to participate in the country’s projects, in addition to introducing Qatari manufacturers to the authority’s projects and their requirements of various materials. In a presentation, Youssef al-Emadi, Projects Affairs director at Ashghal, said the value of projects signed in July 2020 was QR3.6bn, and the value of opportunities available for local product is QR1.35bn. Al-Emadi said the total value of the materials required by Ashghal’s infrastructure projects between 2021 and 2025 is about QR32bn, of which, QR24.5bn could be supplied from the local market. He said local factories and investors can benefit from an additional QR7.5bn by meeting Ashghal’s requirements of the materials that are currently imported, including manhole covers, DI pipes, decorative street light poles, pumps and valves, steel strands- post/pre-tensioning, geotextiles, water proof membrane, barriers, and traffic control devices, among others. Al-Emadi said 51 buildings projects were implemented over the past five years with a total amount of QR6.1bn with a local component of about 70%. He added that Ashghal plans to implement 43 building projects in the next five years at a total cost of QR4bn. He called on local factories to benefit from these budgets by establishing factories for elevators, doors, ceramic tiles, floors, fire extinguishing systems, glass, and other basic materials for buildings, which are not currently manufactured in the local market. Lahdan al-Mohannadi, senior Project Engineering adviser at Ashghal, discussed the Ta’heel initiative launched by Ashghal in 2017 with the aim of supporting local products. He said Ashghal qualified 150 companies through Ta’heel and that the number of qualified companies “increases significantly every year.” The factories, al-Mohannadi said, provide Ashghal projects with 60 main products manufactured locally. Al-Mohannadi said through the Ta’heel initiative Ashghal held several seminars and workshops to train and introduce companies to the best working methods, in addition to the visits made by the authority to factories, and its contribution in raising their operational efficiency and raising the standards applied in them.

cWallet CEO and founder Michael Javier.
‘Next 5 years’ seen as game changer for Qatar startups, says industry expert

The steady delivery of multi-billion legacy projects being completed across the country would usher in demand for human resource in tech-based platforms and solutions, according to an industry expert. “As Qatar slowly moves away from the construction sector and demand for labour force, it will be focusing more on technology-oriented and a more robust society,” said Michael Javier, the CEO and founder of cWallet Services. cWallet is a Qatar-based financial technology startup incubated by the Digital Incubation Centre under the Ministry of Transport and Communications, and is funded by the Qatar Science and Technology Park’s Product Development Programme, as well as the Qatar Business Incubation Centre, a Qatar Development Bank initiative. “So, there will be more demands for programmers, content creators, entrepreneurs, computer scientists, data analytics, and talents that are high-demand on tech companies,” continued Javier, a Filipino national, who spoke to Gulf Times on Monday. He also forecasts that while the startup space is “relatively new in Qatar,” the next five years “is going to be a game changer.” “With the government’s initiatives and support in terms of mentoring and funding, we shall witness diverse portfolios both on startup founders (Qataris and expats), as well as a huge growth in angel investors,” Javier emphasised. In early third quarter of 2020, cWallet Services successfully secured more than QR2mn in grants and funding in its first year, having created cWallet, Qatar’s first and only mobile application to facilitate banking via blockchain technology. Thanks to the new technology, individuals and businesses will be able to perform local and international financial transactions online, including paying and receiving wages and sending remittances to their home countries. As one of the few local platforms available in nine different languages, it also succeeds in overcoming the communication challenges often faced by customers in the targeted markets. Asked what advice could help encourage entrepreneurs or start-up owners in Qatar to enter the local and international market, Javier said: “Jump! If you don't jump, you will never soar and your wings will never open. This is what I have been telling myself every time I face challenges in my entrepreneurship life at the age of 40.” Javier added that his advice reiterates what American comedian Steve Harvey said in one of his shows: “…eventually, the parachute has to open. However, if you ever want to get there, you’re going to have to jump. You can play it safe and deal without the cuts and the tears, and you can stand on that cliff for life forever safe; but if you don’t jump your parachute will never open. You’ll never know.”

Rehan Ali Syed, CEO of Tawfeeq Travel Group.rnrn
Local tourism in Qatar upbeat as markets reopen, says industry expert

The government’s recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions has been instrumental in boosting tourism-related activities across different destinations in Qatar, according to an industry expert. There has been a surge in bookings for beach properties, private yachts, and resorts across Qatar, said Rehan Ali Syed, the CEO of Tawfeeq Travel Group. Local tours and excursions like kayaking, dhow cruise, and safari have also been in demand, he noted. “We have been promoting staycations with the citizens and residents in Qatar. The implementation of the fourth phase has indeed relaxed the restrictions. However, it is still important that we abide by all precautions prescribed by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH),” Syed told Gulf Times on Saturday. As early as the third phase of lifting restrictions, Syed stated that hotels in Qatar “were seeing positive trends,” especially with beach properties. During the Eid holidays, most of the premium properties were “running on very high occupancy,” he stressed. “As soon as the fourth phase was announced, malls started getting busier and busier, especially since children are now allowed inside and with food courts opening up with 30% occupancy. “If things go as per the MoPH’s plan, I guess by mid-September we will have more relaxation which will help to build the confidence of residents to step out of their homes. This year, with not much of travel in summer, residents are craving to get out of their homes and enjoy shopping and eating out with their loved ones,” Syed explained. Asked about Covid-19’s impact on inbound tourism, Syed pointed out that the arrival of international tourists would be “a bit distant” pending the opening of international borders. However, Syed noted that “cruise liners will be the first to step in Qatar…cruise liners are all set to sail into Qatar as soon as they receive clearance from QNTC.” “For local tourists, with Qatar Museums now open, we expect citizens and expats to explore the Qatari heritage and history. The opening of the new Hilton Salwa Resort has been in huge demand along with the premium Al Messila Resort & Spa adding another option for the local residence. “The regular desert safaris along with Zubara Fort and Sealine Beach will always be popular amongst the expats. There are several sport activities, including FIFA Club championship planned in this last quarter, will eventually boost the local tourism,” Syed emphasised. Syed also commended the Qatari government for its role in handling the coronavirus pandemic. “We have to applaud the efforts taken by the government of Qatar to ensure the safety and well-being of all citizens and expats. They have been proactive in initiating proper checks through the Ehteraz App and ensuring that campaigns like social distancing and other precautions reach the masses in various languages. The government continues to extend all their support to various businesses to minimise the impact of the pandemic,” he stressed.

Navy blue is also the dominant colour of the fabric strap offered with this model. The fabric strap is one of the hallmarks of TUDOR, which, in 2010, became one of the very first watchmaking brands to offer it with its products.
Creating timeless memories with TUDOR’s Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’

Not even a long list of “moda” nomenclature would suffice to describe my experience with the Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’, TUDOR’s latest from among its long tradition of blue sports watches. Through Fifty One East, Gulf Times was among the select few in Doha to experience the new exceptional watch from TUDOR, the award-winning Swiss watch brand which has been offering watches with refined aesthetics, proven reliability, and unique value for money since 1926 when “The TUDOR” was first registered as a brand on behalf of the founder of Rolex, Hans Wilsdorf. And indeed, the ‘Navy Blue’ version of its flagship model, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight, sets it apart from other watches. Case in point: its 39 millimetre case in 316L stainless steel, navy blue matte domed dial grained with applied hour-markers. I’ve been used to wearing big face, oversized watches over the years but despite its size, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’ still commands attention because of its sleek and stylish design; it’s a guaranteed head-turner at the malls, especially to those who have a keen fashion sense and understand their watches. Wearing a watch with a leather strap on a humid day has its challenges, particularly if you’re cruising along public parks across Doha. But this wasn’t the case with Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’ while I was longboarding at the Sheraton Hotel Park with the Doha Longboard Crew (DLC) over the weekend. This was because the watch comes with three straps/bracelet options: blue Jacquard fabric with silver band, blue ‘soft touch’, and ‘riveted’ steel. I used the blue Jacquard fabric with silver band while longboarding and it was a cool experience. I wouldn’t mind wearing the Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’ during nighttime MTB rides, as well. Overall, this model keeps you elegantly and stylishly fashionable during outdoor activities. Not only does the Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’ gets its name from its colour, but also from the year 1958, in which the first TUDOR divers’ watch waterproof to 200 metres (660ft), reference 7924 or ‘Big Crown’, was presented. Among other aesthetic nods to this historic watch, this model offers a 39mm diameter case in keeping with the characteristic proportions of the 1950s, making it ideal for slim wrists and people who like more compact watches, as well as vintage enthusiasts. In 1969, TUDOR introduced a divers’ watch with a blue dial and bezel. The other sports watches in the collection were soon attired in blue, immediately creating a lasting aesthetic hallmark known as “TUDOR Blue.” Adopted by the French navy for its TUDOR divers’ watches during the 1970s, this livery became part of the collective imagination. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight ‘Navy Blue’ follows in this tradition with its navy blue dial and bezel insert. This is a colour that also appears on the ‘soft touch’ strap offered with this model and made from a synthetic, tactile material resembling flannel. Navy blue is also the dominant colour of the fabric strap offered with this model. The fabric strap is one of the hallmarks of TUDOR, which, in 2010, became one of the very first watchmaking brands to offer it with its products. Woven in France on 19th century Jacquard looms by the company Julien Faure in the St-Etienne region, its manufacturing quality and comfort on the wrist are unique. In 2020, TUDOR and Julien Faure, a 150-year-old family company, celebrate 10 years of a partnership that started just before the launch of the Heritage Chrono in 2010, the first model of the brand to be fitted with a fabric strap created by the artisan. A fine anniversary for an enduring collaboration built on outstanding expertise. The Manufacture Calibre MT5402 displays hour, minute, and second functions. It has the finish typical of TUDOR Manufacture calibres. Its rotor in tungsten monobloc is openwork and satin-brushed with sand-blasted details, and its bridges and mainplate have alternate sand-blasted, polished surfaces and laser decorations. Another notable feature is that the power reserve of the Manufacture MT5402 Calibre is ‘weekend-proof’ – that is to say about 70 hours, which enables the wearer to take the watch off on a Thursday evening and put it back on again on Sunday morning without having to wind and reset it. TUDOR, available at Fifty One East, Lagoona Mall and Modern Home, Al Maha Centre on Salwa Road, is now offering a five-year guarantee on all its products sold after January 1, 2020. This guarantee does not require the watch to be registered, or any maintenance checks, and is transferable. In addition, all TUDOR products bought between July 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019 will benefit from an 18-month extension to their guarantee – a total of three-and-a-half years.

Arifa A Ala, BSPu2019s managing director
Philippines open to Qatar investments in digital banking, says central bank official

The Philippines’ central bank or the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is open to potential investments from Qatar in the field of digital banking and Financial Technology (Fintech), according to a BSP official. BSP’s managing director, lawyer Arifa A Ala, said the BSP has been open to a number of regulations that accommodate digital transactions not only in the banking industry but also with non-bank financial institutions. “In fact, in our own strategic planning, we are actually targeting to bring the digital transactions to around 30%,” Ala said during the third leg of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority’s (Peza) virtual ‘Business Continuity Forums’ held recently. Greg Loayon Recognising that “the future of banking is going digital,” Ala said the BSP has a dedicated subsector for Fintech and that it is “strongly supporting” digital banking. In light of the progress the Philippines has made in Islamic banking, she stressed that offering a Shariah-compliant digital solution to the market “will be very attractive.” Ala’s response during the webinar was related to Philippine Business Council-Qatar (PBC-Q) chairman Greg Loayon’s statement regarding the BSP’s role in promoting Shariah-compliant digital solutions, citing the high remittance volume from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). The Philippines ranked fourth ($35.1bn) in the World Bank’s top five remittance recipient countries, trailing behind Mexico with $38.7bn, China ($70.3bn), and India ($82.2bn), according to official figures as of October 2019. Speaking in the context of digital banking, Loayon noted that in many areas of Mindanao “there is a large gap” in terms of access to banking. He stressed that it would be a “good move” to capitalise on the Philippines’ high mobile phone penetration and “marrying that with a Shariah-compliant product.” “And I think it would be a first for the Philippines, so I am interested to see where the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas is with regards to digital platforms because there are investor conversations happening right now in Qatar on digital banking in the Philippines,” Loayon pointed out. Loayon also asked about a potential collaboration between Peza and BSP on establishing Fintech solutions that could be located inside Peza economic zones but regulated by the BSP. According to Ala, she also welcomes the suggestion of Peza director general Charito B Plaza to forge a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the BSP for potential Islamic financial institutions inside Peza economic zones. “With the recent amendment of the BSP’s charter, the supervised financial institutions of the BSP have expanded to include money service businesses and credit granting entities, among others, so they are under our supervision,” Ala said.

South Korean ambassador Chang-mo Kim.
PPP law seen boosting diversity, competitiveness of Qatar economy

South Korean ambassador Chang-mo Kim has lauded the recently-announced Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Law, saying this would work to the advantage of both countries in terms of further enhancing trade and economic ties with Qatar. The ambassador emphasised that the PPP law could enhance diversity and the competitiveness of Qatar’s economy by encouraging private sector participation in major economic activities, thereby contributing to achieving the Qatar National Vision 2030. “South Korean companies are waiting for detailed guidelines on its implementation such as scope of its application and requirements to be fulfilled by the private companies…I hope South Korean companies can find good business opportunities in Qatar under the new PPP law. The South Korean embassy is ready to lend support for them,” Kim told Gulf Times. “The South Korean government is also providing legal and policy assistance to help our companies participate in major projects utilising public-private partnerships. In an effort to support global PPP business, the Korea Overseas Infrastructure & Urban Development Corporation (KIND) was established in June 2018,” the ambassador pointed out. Asked what other roles the embassy could play in forging PPPs with Qatar, and in which sectors, Kim said that for South Korean companies interested in PPP projects here, the embassy will share with them the recent trends in the Qatari market and keep these companies informed of the Qatari government’s new measures and policy changes. “By sharing responsibility with private sector under the new law, the Qatari government can alleviate financial burden of major economic projects. Private companies can also benefit from the law by participating in attractive PPP projects where they can utilise their comparative advantage. I hope the new PPP law will work effectively and prove mutually beneficial to both the Qatari Government and the private companies,” Kim said. The ambassador added: “In Qatar, the PPP approach has been adopted for major agricultural projects and construction of sewage treatment plant even before the introduction of the new law. “I am sure that the new law will act as a stepping stone for the further development of PPP projects in other sectors, and I hope to see many projects initiated in areas where South Korean companies are interested.”

Panama ambassador Musa Asvat
PPP in Qatar ‘most advance, modern’, says Panamanian envoy

Qatar, being a safe country and known for its modern infrastructure and facilities for foreign investors, offers many incentives that encourage Panamanian companies to bring their investments to the gas-rich Gulf country, according to Panama ambassador Musa Asvat. “The Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged many countries to look for partnerships that prioritise competitive business considerations and Qatar’s public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the most advance and modern,” Asvat told Gulf Times, referring to Qatar’s recently-announced PPP Law. “It should be an example for other countries to follow and reshape the balance in trade in both ways. This is a crucial moment as governments across the world grapple with ways to handle the health, economic, and societal consequences of the health crisis. The private sector is also empowered to fulfil its role in overcoming the crisis,” the ambassador said. Asked what role could the embassy of Panama play in forging PPPs with Qatar, and in which sectors, Asvat said: “We can see this in areas of expertise that we may offer to supply the demands of the Qatari market. “Another immediate sector is related to maritime services not only because Panama has been recognised worldwide in the fields of infrastructure and logistics in the region but also because Panama has been an important transit point in international trade for many decades.” Asvat also lauded the Qatar Free Zones Authority (QFZA) for its active role in forging partnerships with different countries to boost FDI inflow into the country. He said the embassy is keen to assist Panamanian companies and QFZA secure ties or partnerships. “The embassy is open to support Panamanian companies and also companies from Qatar from all sectors, together with the Qatar Free Zones Authority. We are keen to build bridges of communication between all the interested parties. We have the contacts and the information that could be easily given by email or any form of communication as needed, including our social media platforms. “Panama has experience in free zones for more than 70 years, which is sustainable for the country being a strategic location in the centre of the Americas. The country is also modernising all institutions to offer the public all information transparently and efficiently,” Asvat pointed out.

Costa Rica ambassador Alvaro Mariano Segura Avila.rnrn
Envoy eyes robust Qatar-Costa Rica commercial ties in ‘new normal’

Costa Rica’s top diplomat in Qatar is keen to forge stronger relations with Qatar as both nations prepare for the new normal following the gradual opening of most economies and the drop in covid-19 cases worldwide. “Our goal is that diplomatic and commercial relations between Costa Rica and Qatar are strengthened in the new normal; for that we expect a more intense promotion of our products in Qatar in order to improve our trade balance and promoting greater investment by Qatar in Costa Rica,” ambassador Alvaro Mariano Segura Avila told Gulf Times. Qatar has gradually eased lockdown restrictions under strict compliance with the directives issued by the Ministry of Public Health. By September, Qatar is expected to fully open the economy, it was announced earlier. Avila said Costa Rican companies based in Qatar are prioritising health and safety-related changes and adjustments to assure that business operations will be back to normal. “For Costa Rican companies with expectations of doing business with Qatar, it is very important to focus efforts on establishing health certificates and ensuring that the products that are exported to Qatar and other destinations, reflect the health and quality conditions that prevail in Costa Rica. “Likewise, choosing production processes and commercial routes that would reduce to the maximum the spread of the contagion to people who handle these products and the target market,” Avila pointed out. Asked what initiatives should Costa Rican companies focus on under the new normal in terms of technology and innovation, the ambassador said Costa Rica has global competitive advantages in the production of medical and high-tech components. “This can be very attractive to the world, in general, in these times when health prevention is so important. In the same way, there are immunology research centres and the creation of antidotes, whose products can be in great demand worldwide,” Avila said. The ambassador also stressed that the embassy has put in place initiatives to help Costa Rican companies meet various operational objectives in the pipeline. “In general, the policy of promoting products and services in Costa Rica aims to create a more favourable environment worldwide for the demand for these types of products, especially considering that the effects of this pandemic are devastating for the world. “It is important to clarify that this experience has been valuable in focusing on future efforts, such as preventive medicine and improving the response capacity of hospital care. This will allow the world to offer medical products and hospital care services in which the country can be competitive. From this perspective, our embassy will play an important role in the regional promotion of these types of products and services,” he said.

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) director general Charito B Plaza joins various officials during a virtual conference on Islamic finance held recently.
Islamic finance seen as driver for FDI inflow to Philippines, say govt officials

The Philippines is looking at Islamic finance as a platform to attract and encourage partners in the Middle East, such as Qatar, to expand their footprint in the Southeast Asian nation, particularly in the field of Islamic banking, according to government officials during a recently-held webinar. The virtual conference, organised by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza), in co-operation with the Banko Central ng Pilipinas (BSP), tackled the theme ‘Islamic Finance as a Vehicle to Economic Recovery’, and highlighted discussions on foreign investment opportunities in the Philippines via Islamic finance. This is the third in a series of ‘Business Continuity Forums’ held by Peza, in collaboration with the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG), and in co-operation with Peza’s Investment Promotions Partners in the Middle East. Peza director general Charito B Plaza underscored the importance of Republic Act (RA) 11439 or ‘An Act Providing for the Regulation and Organisation of Islamic Banks’ signed by President Rodrigo R Duterte on August 22, 2019, which will maximise the full potential of Islamic financing in promoting inclusive economic growth. Plaza emphasised that the Philippines, being a multi-cultural and democratic country, “strongly cares for the inclusion of our Muslim brothers and sisters” in the large Islamic financial framework in the global market. “Islamic banking will surely help Peza achieve its vision in promoting economic growth in the countryside,” Plaza pointed out. Plaza’s remarks during the webinar reiterated the statements delivered by Abdulgani M Macatoman, the undersecretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Trade Promotions Group (TPG), who was in Qatar earlier this year during the Doha leg of the DTI’s ‘Outbound Business Matching Mission (OBMM) to GCC 2020’. Macatoman stressed that the Philippines is keen to partner with Qatar in the development of its Islamic banking system, and that the Southeast Asian country could benefit from Qatar’s expertise in Islamic banking and Shariah-compliant policies. Lawyer Arifa A Ala, managing director at the BSP, highlighted that RA 11439 was created as an expanded Islamic banking system that involves tax neutrality, stronger risk management, ethical financial stability, further establishment of Islamic banks, and other Islamic financial activities, as well as the imposition of principle-based rules and standards, in addition to strict Shariah law compliance. “Philippine Islamic banking is an alternative product/service available in the market and is not exclusive to Muslims. As such, foreign Islamic banks and investors, especially from the Middle East, are welcome to expand their operations in the Philippines. Meanwhile, local commercial banks may also open an Islamic bank and/or Islamic banking units/windows,” Ala stressed. Peza also recently launched an online job expo titled ‘Development Outreach for Labour, Livelihood, and Advancement of Resources’ (Dollar), which offered 69,081 jobs and online skills training for displaced Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWS) and unemployed Filipinos. The jobs are available at The programme was held with the support of the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Labour and Employment (Dole), and the Office of Senator Bong Go. DTI secretary Ramon Lopez said Peza’s online job fair and skills training are very much aligned with DTI initiatives and other agencies to aid repatriated OFWs and locally-unemployed Filipinos. Dole secretary Silvestre Bello III said, “The role of service providers and investment promoters of our economic zones cannot be over-emphasised…the active engagement of these key pillars is the fuel to rev up our workforce.”

An employee displays one-kilogram gold bars at a store in Tokyo. Citing data published by the World Gold Council, Malabar Gold said many central banks have continued to invest in gold and have increased their holdings in the last three to nine months.
Gold price breaks record; projected to rise further

Global investors and central banks continue to invest in gold as a safe haven asset, making the yellow metal hit record high prices, according to key industry players. “All individuals and institutions that have ever purchased gold have made their investment profitable today with gold crossing its previous historic high rate of $1,920 per ounce. Prominent banks and financial institutions have projected gold price to increase in light of the current global economic situation,” Malabar Gold & Diamonds said in a statement. Citing data published by the World Gold Council, Malabar Gold said many central banks have continued to invest in gold and have increased their holdings in the last three to nine months. “Central banks of India, Turkey, the UAE, and Russia, among others, have made substantial investments to increase their gold reserves. Turkey has increased their gold holdings by 109% to 805.9 tonnes and the UAE has increased their holdings by 104% to 31.5 tonnes. India purchased 47 tonnes and Russia purchased 60 tonnes to increase their total holdings to 665 tonnes and 2,301 tonnes, respectively,” the statement said. According to Malabar Gold, buyers in the GCC stand to gain in terms of gold price advantage as the price of the yellow metal continues to be lower than India by 10% to 13%. In Qatar, gold is pegged at QR237.50 per gramme compared to QR250 (5,080 Indian rupees) in India, or a QR12.5 (5%) price advantage. Shamlal Ahamed, managing director – International Operations, Malabar Gold & Diamonds, said: “It’s a historic day for gold and all individuals/institutions who have ever purchased gold; as their investments have turned profitable with gold rate crossing its previous historic rate of $1,920/oz. Gold is trading at $1,935/oz and has appreciated 37% in a year’s time outperforming all other assets.” To address the impact of Covid-19 on sales, Malabar Gold has rolled out a corporate sustenance plan in May across its international operations to keep businesses afloat and reduce the impact of the disruptions on the business, as well as it’s team members and partners, said Malabar Gold & Diamonds zonal head Naufal Thadathil. Asked if it is a good time to buy gold in Qatar, Thadathil said: “It is the best time now for consumers to invest in the metal and ensure savings through our Shubh Aaarambham Price Promise campaign, which offers our customers a 20-50% discount on making charges in gold jewellery and up to 25% discount on diamond value. “Additionally, they also have the opportunity to pay just 10% as advance for their favourite jewellery and block the gold rate for a period of 30 days from the date of booking. This way, if gold rate increases at the time of purchase, customers can avail the booked rate and if it reduces, they can still draw mileage of the reduced rate.” This is the first time Malabar Gold & Diamonds is offering such discounts, according to Thadathil, who urged customers use the opportunity to invest in gold. “Additionally, considering the current scenario, Malabar Gold & Diamonds has initiated a cash buy back scheme for people who have purchased gold jewellery from other retailers as well — to support and provide maximum value and easy liquidity. “This scheme is 100% compliant of all local laws and regulations. Customers of Malabar Gold & Diamonds are protected by guaranteed cash buy back for all jewellery purchased from them,” he said.

Tanzanian ambassador to Qatar Fatma Mohamed Rajab (centre) is joined by KON founder & chairman Mohamed R Massani and KON partner & chairperson Hissa al-Suwaidi.
Tanzania embassy to hold digital business forum on August 10

The Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania will be hosting a digital business forum on August 10 at 4pm to explore investment opportunities with Qatar and to increase both countries’ trade volume. Tanzanian ambassador to Qatar Fatma Mohamed Rajab said the embassy has partnered with Qatari company, KON, to organise the ‘Tanzania Digital Business Forum 2020’, which carries the theme ‘Invest Today, Earn Tomorrow’. The digital business forum will exclusively outline Tanzania’s investment opportunities available for investors, stakeholders, business owners and all related incentives and procedures through ‘KON Diplomatic’, a one-stop window to obtain all facilities for a safe and better investment in Tanzania. “With the global and local market economic status, our firms never stopped developing our business diplomacy with the embassies and diplomatic corps,” said KON founder & chairman Mohamed R Massani. “The principal thrust of our partnership with the Tanzanian embassy is to respond to all the incredible potential areas of investment in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, health, education, transportation, livestock, fishing, tourism, ICT, energy, infrastructure, and services sectors, and for products, such as fruits, vegetables, minerals, beef, coffee, spices, and honey,” he said. He noted that KON has “100% vested interest” in boosting both countries’ business collaborations “on all levels.” In addition to KON’s business strategy with Tanzania’s embassy in Qatar, Massani said that from the beginning the company has been “working intensively” to build a strong tailor-made strategy “based on a unique constructive business diplomacy to be implemented for the first time.” “KON is very glad to be the first and only local company driving business diplomacy with different countries, which is aligned with the vision of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and to manage business expectations with a double-edged marketing strategy by creating unique, realistic goals,” he added. Earlier, Rajab said the embassy is “in full communication” with Tanzanian companies and business communities by maintaining a direct line with the country’s One-Stop Centre, Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), and Zanzibar Investment Promotion Agency (ZIPA), as well as the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture. She also said the embassy has direct communication with the Ministry of Trade and Investment in Tanzania and all other sectoral Ministries. It is also in direct contact with government and private institutions that are responsible for co-ordinating, encouraging, promoting, and facilitating trade and investments in Tanzania. For more information about the digital business forum, visit

Panama ambassador Musa Asvat
Envoy lauds resilience of Qatari, Panamanian companies as markets brace for ‘new normal’

Many businesses in Qatar, including Panamanian companies, have managed to weather the challenges of Covid-19 since lockdowns and quarantine measures were implemented at the beginning of the pandemic, according to Panama ambassador Musa Asvat. The ambassador also lauded the government’s efforts to shield the economy from the impact of the health crisis, citing the need for businesses to adhere to the directives issued by the Ministry of Public Health. “The State of Qatar has made a remarkable work against the pandemic with less cases, low mortality, and the leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as well as the support of all professionals working in the frontline. “I would like to highlight the importance of resilience not only for Panamanian companies in Qatar but for all companies during this process of adapting to the new normal; they should follow all measures of the Ministry of Public Health,” Asvat told Gulf Times. As economies worldwide adjust to the “new normal,” Asvat said, Panamanian companies are focusing more on utilising technology and innovation to address clients’ needs. “Research is key to understanding the needs and demands of the market, led by the customers. The new normal is bringing new challenges to governments and all kinds of organisations. Digital trade has played a crucial role in keeping trade flowing. “As the physical movement of goods and people is restricted, we can see the increase of trade by non-traditional platforms, such as social media, e-commerce, and digital payments, to teleconferencing with business partners around the world replacing physical documents with electronic records, and digitally enabled transactions in goods and services,” Asvat pointed out. The ambassador also noted that the Embassy of Panama in Doha is working together with the Qatari government to implement initiatives that would boost economic opportunities for both the countries. “Qatar and Panama are both leaders in their respective regions and one objective in common is to build the bridge between the GCC and Central America — that means an exchange of trade of a population of more than 100mn in both areas,” Asvat said. He added: “We are working in close collaboration with the State of Qatar to conclude negotiations for several agreements that will result in great opportunities for companies of both the countries to facilitate trade and speed up transactions, making the exchange of goods faster in either direction. We are finding efficient ways for these agreements to benefit not just a few countries and regions, but the whole world.”

Doha Bank CEO Dr R Seetharaman with other dignitaries during the webinar
Singapore seen as Qatar’s LNG hub in Southeast Asia

Singapore could serve as Qatar’s hub for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the Southeast Asian region, Singapore’s ambassador to the State of Qatar Jai Sohan Singh said in a webinar hosted by Doha Bank on Wednesday. Qatar and Singapore have many synergies that should be explored, among which are collaborations in several areas such as health, Fintech, and LNG, said Singh during the event titled ‘Bilateral & Synergistic Opportunities between Qatar and Singapore’. Singh delivered the statement in the presence of other speakers led by Doha Bank Dr R Seetharaman, Enterprise Singapore Regional Group director Imran Hamsa, Singapore Business Council – Qatar secretary general and CBM Qatar general manager Adrian Tan, and Doha Bank – Singapore Representative Office chief representative Ivan Lew. “In the field of LNG, what we can actually look at is for Qatar to use Singapore as a storage hub for the Southeast Asian region. This would give LNG-importing countries in the region a greater sense of security. “And I think both Qatar and Singapore could serve as regional hubs; Singaporean companies can look at Qatar as a gateway to the Middle East, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Qatari companies can look at Singapore to explore not only Southeast Asia but also the Asia Pacific markets, such as in China, India, South Korea, and Japan,” said Singh, who stressed that bilateral trade between Qatar and Singapore amounted to “QR22.5bn in 2019.” On bilateral relationships between Qatar and Singapore, Seetharaman said His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited Singapore in October 2017, while HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani visited Singapore in August 2019, and Singapore’s Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hien visited Qatar in November 2019. Seetharaman said Qatar Chamber and Singapore Business Federation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in October 2017 to enhance trade and investment between both the countries’ business communities. Singapore has emerged as a strategically important hub for Qatar’s LNG exports to the region, he said. “The Gulf Cooperation Council-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) enabled Singapore to gain access in Qatar’s construction, computer and enabled services, and environmental services. The free trade agreement provided more investment opportunities in Singapore for mutual benefits. In April 2018, Qatar Chamber arranged a business meet with Singaporean companies,” Seetharaman said. He also highlighted opportunities in various segments, such as the issuance of performance bonds, tender bonds for participation of Singapore companies in the infrastructure projects in Qatar, letters of credit for exports of crude oil and LNG shipments from Qatar to Singapore, and incoming remittances and payments for Qatar exports to Singapore, among others. The ambassador also noted that one of the main foundations underpinning both countries’ relations is the Qatar-Singapore High Level Joint Committee (HLJC), which was established in 2006. “The HLJC is Singapore’s highest platform with a country in the Middle East. There are currently 28 agreements signed under the HLJC ranging in areas like healthcare, trade, education, culture, and public sector training, among others,” he said. “Singapore and Qatar had also established the implementation, monitoring mechanism (IMM) under the HLJC framework. This is a body that is forechecked by the two foreign ministers, and IMM helps to ensure the regular follow-up and effective implementation of bilateral agreements and initiatives,” Singh added.

Hypermarkets ‘well-prepared’ for Eid, lifting of curbs in Phase 3

Major hypermarkets have made the necessary preparations for the expected influx of customers during Eid al-Adha and in Phase 3 of the gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions, which is scheduled to begin on August 1, according to store officials. But the officials were also quick to stress that while the coming period is expected to increase customer footfall, health and safety protocols will still be strictly enforced in accordance with the regulations prescribed by the Ministry of Public Health. “Customer footfall is steadily going back to normal as the government eases the lockdown restrictions and as the markets are gradually reopening.  And, because of this, many of our regular customers are now back in our stores,” Safari Mall procurement manager Rajesh Nair told Gulf Times yesterday. “Safari is well-prepared to receive more customers as we head towards Phase 3 and Phase 4. We are also continuously following the protocols set by the Ministry of Public Health, such as maintaining social distancing and other safety precautions, to protect our customers and staff from Covid-19,” he emphasised. Similarly, LuLu Hypermarket regional manager Shanavas P M said: “Since Day 1 of the pandemic, LuLu has implemented all precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  As we approach Phase 3 of the easing of lockdown restrictions, we are keen to continue in carrying out all the necessary health and safety regulations that the government has imposed to protect the people from the pandemic.  “Social distancing protocols, regular disinfection of the premises and trolleys, the checking of temperatures, and requiring the Ehteraz app before entering the hypermarket, among other precautions, will still be maintained.” Shanavas said customer footfall was significantly affected because children below 12 years and the elderly are not allowed to enter hypermarkets, according to government restrictions.  But while there was a drop in customer footfall at the beginning of the pandemic, Shanavas noted that LuLu has recently recorded a steady increase in the number of customers, which is expected to continue as Eid al-Adha and Phase 3 are approaching. As with most businesses, both LuLu and Safari have strengthened their online platforms to reach a wider customer base amid the pandemic.  According to Nair, Safari’s ‘Click & Collect’ App received “an extremely good” response from customers. LuLu, on the other hand, has intensified its online shopping platform to respond immediately to its clients, Shanavas pointed out. Nair further explained that stores across the country, such as Safari, are expecting good sales in the coming period because the majority of expatriates did not leave the country for Eid al-Adha.  Shanavas also added that LuLu is “well-stocked” for Eid al-Adha. He stressed that essential items, such as food and non-food products, are in stock, which will last until the end of the year.