Qatar plans to spend $3bn to attract foreign companies to its new free zones as the country seeks to diversify its economy amid a boycott.

The world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas wants to lean on its existing ties with companies to attract foreign investment to the areas south of Doha, HE the Minister of State Ahmed bin Mohamed al-Sayed, who is also the chairman of Qatar’s Free Zones Authority, said in an interview.

Logistics, chemicals, plastics and artificial intelligence are among the industries intended for the zones.

“We are looking for the cornerstone investor first and are setting up a $3bn development and foreign direct investment fund as an incentive,” said al-Sayed, a former chief executive officer of Qatar Investment Authority.

“Qatar has reached a stage of development, after building the physical, social and economic infrastructure, where we are ready to welcome the most talented foreigners to live with us, and work and manage their businesses from here.”

The incentive fund is just the start, and could increase to more than $5bn as the free zones expand, al-Sayed said.

The country has already spent $10bn developing the areas that border one of the world’s biggest cargo operations at Hamad International Airport and a new port, he said.

Construction and the relevant legal frameworks will be completed by the end of next year.

Qatar, which has ties to companies ranging from Exxon Mobil Corporation to Volkswagen AG, is transforming its political, trade and financial relations after it was boycotted by its neighbours last year.

The country has earmarked $2bn for firms to join its financial centre and is trying a similar tactic with the free zones, which are popular in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar in June last year, accusing it of financing terrorist groups and having close ties with Iran, charges the country rejects.

The rift forced Qatar to shift import routes to Kuwait and Oman, and buy goods from Iran and Turkey.

Al-Sayed said a group of listed companies in Qatar will form a joint venture to boost investments in the zones. He declined to provide details.

He said there are more opportunities as businesses expand, seek new markets, and want to partner with companies such as Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Airways and QIA.

“We have energy and resources, and we are determined to maximise the use of this wealth,” al-Sayed said.

“You might have a business somewhere else, but companies are growing every day and are establishing new business in every location, so it’s normal to have multiple locations.”

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