The UK has been historically a key international business partner, developing strong trade and commercial ties across Asia and the Arabic regions.
London continues to be a key financial hub, benefiting from high international investments. UK business is built from an Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurship spirit, which represents a key strength to develop new opportunities pragmatically.
In addition, the UK presents solid business schools networks, with top schools as London Business School, Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick being among the top 15 worldwide, contributing to the development of competitive resources for the business.
In the past decades, the UK’s business shifted to a service economy, losing the competitiveness of key industrial companies, being reinforced by the injection of funds from international and emerging players as it has been the case in the steel, car manufacturing and other heavy production processes. Concerned by the loss of competitiveness, the UK look to encourage innovation and digital technologies development, which support the creation of new businesses and represent opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Currently the UK is facing a crossroad that is impacting it’s business environment, with Brexit to be implemented from March 2019. The expected outcome is not clear, having the confusion increased with the last week’s House of Commons vote.
This brings uncertainty to several businesses, mainly international ones having operations with the EU. Uncertainty not only comes with change, but with opportunities as well. In its research for a reinforced independence following a new business scheme to be implemented with the European Union, UK business should continue to develop its commercial ties with international markets. That represents a key opportunity for Qatar companies looking to expand into international markets.
For several small and medium companies, the Qatar market could not be enough to achieve a full potential, requiring to go abroad. One option could be to include in the plan from an early stage, a development of the commercial network with the UK market. UK business environment offers several advantages:
• Straightforward business set-up process
• UK government presents more than 190 schemes in terms of funds and support services
• Presence of more than 150 incubators for start-ups
• Access to international markets and strong variety of service providers
• Solid infrastructures
• High level of competencies and qualified manpower
• UK-Qatar tax treaty
The high cost of living in certain cities and the tax level could be points that could discourage Qatar businesses to expand internationally through the UK. The set-up of a company registered in British Virgin Islands could be an option to optimise taxes, but in some cases not applicable or not preferable, as international markets are increasing pressure on tax heavens in terms of transparency and control.
Qatar’s business relation with the UK remains highly dynamic, with the meeting in July 2018 of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May. The Lord Mayor of London, Charles Bowman, visited Qatar as ambassador for the UK’s financial and professional services industry, with a business delegation last September. More recently, the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) hosted a high-level delegation of cybersecurity companies from the UK, as part of an official visit organised by the Department for International Trade (DIT) at the British Embassy Doha.
Expanding into the UK market to move internationally could possibly not fit to all businesses, but represents a valuable option to be studied in the development plan of an SME. Options to evaluate closer in times of change, with reinforced interest to attract international businesses, could potentially improve conditions to welcome Qatari market players and investors.
* The author is managing partner, Y&S Consulting LLP