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The Italian Chamber of Commerce started operating in Doha in 2004 under the patronage of the Italian Embassy. Since then, it has proved to be a reliable gateway for Italian entrepreneurs to approach business opportunities in Qatar. “Our mission is to promote business relations between Qatar and Italy with all our potential. We are a mixed chamber with 30% of Qatari companies affiliated, and we are recognized by the Italian Ministry of Economic development,” says Maria Palma Libotte, President of the Italian Chamber of Commerce.
Currently, there are approximately 1,300 Italian citizens in Doha working in a number of fields such as oil and gas, construction, engineering, architecture, interior, sports, law firms, medicine, aviation and hospitality. There are around 50 registered Italian companies presently in Doha, including “Salini Impregilo working on the railway project, Anas cooperating with Ashghal as a consultant for the roads, Marcegaglia, the scaffold contractor at the National Museum of Qatar, Rizzani De Eccher building and infrastructures, and Tozzi Qatar electrical instrumentation projects for oil and gas, power and industrial plants,” explains Libotte.
It goes without saying that Qatar is a key market for Italy since the Arab nation has tons of projects in the pipeline for the upcoming World Cup 2022, and projects to foster and support the National Vision 2030. “Qatar requires medium sized companies with discerning expertise that match the profile of Italian companies especially in the field of engineering and architecture. In addition, we get along with the Qatari entrepreneurs as our mentality is flexible and we are able to work under pressure even when plans change,” says Libotte. The Italian Chamber of Commerce offers an array of specialized services starting from the screening of Qatari and Italian companies. “We carefully select and encourage only those companies that have a scope for the market. We also gather a lot of information through local companies and suggest feasibility studies before matchmaking or business meetings.”
In reference to some of the challenges Italian investors face in Qatar, Libotte explains how the big companies involved in major projects do require a stronger associate; therefore, it is an advantage for them to partner 51% with a Qatari national. “However, for SMEs, sometimes the sponsor matter can be an obstacle, and it discourages them since startup costs are very high in Qatar- especially the rents for offices and outlets.” She further elaborates how SMEs are undoubtedly crucial to diversify the Gulf nation’s economy, and to allow the country to grow the private sector in tandem with the necessary developments.
“The public sector is working on ways to ease and facilitate their access to the market. I have learned that Qatar Financial Centre Authority has really moved forward in this direction.” In 2012, Qatar agreed to invest as much as €1 billion in Italian companies. “A joint venture between Italy’s strategic investment fund and state-owned Qatar Holding will invest in sectors including food, fashion and luxury goods, furniture and design, tourism and leisure,” the Italian fund said in a statement. According to Libotte, Italy is the second exporter to Qatar after the United States, with machinery, luxury items, cars, food chemicals, and furniture.
The Italian Chamber of Commerce has received many positive queries from potential Qatari investors, and as a result, the Italian Chamber has either supported them to find the right opportunity within Italy or placed them in contact with Italian companies. “We are planning a trip to Italy with a delegation of prominent Qatari businessmen during the fall, and hopefully we shall bring them to Milano to visit the Expo. Our new Honorary President, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Faisal Al Thani, Vice Chairman of Al Faisal Holding, will be leading the delegation.” Recently, Qatar has acquired Valentino, Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, which was previously owned by the Aga Khan, and many hotels in Milano and Rome. Their latest purchase is a five star luxury hotel in Rome, the Boscolo, a stunning property located in the historical city center, now part of the Al Faisal Holding portfolio.
Bilateral agreements between Italy and Qatar include avoiding double taxation, promotion and protection of investments, cooperation in the field of culture and in the defense sector.