Qatar's financial hub to add sports, media to compete with Dubai

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DOHA (Feb 18): Qatar Financial Centre wants to attract companies other than just banks and asset managers to position itself as a multi-faceted business hub with better access than the country’s rival Dubai to markets including Turkey, Pakistan and Kuwait.

The new strategy is focused on building out four "clusters" for activities ranging from sports to media, Yousuf Al-Jaida, chief executive officer of the Qatar Financial Centre Authority, said in Doha.

The center drew up the plan after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing the Gulf country of financing terrorist groups and having close ties with Iran. Qatar rejects the charges. The rift forced it to shift trade and transportation routes to Kuwait and Oman and to buy goods from Iran and Turkey.

Doha is working toward taking on rivals in the Gulf Cooperation Council by trying to attract overseas investment and developing into a bigger business hub. Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are taking similar steps, with plans to relax company ownership rules and grant foreigners permanent residencies.

“There has always been this view that there can only be one hub in the region,” Al-Jaida said. The embargo has provided a chance for QFC to be an alternative financial center, “especially with the current geopolitical tensions.”

The clusters would include:

  • sports services: Qatar will host the 2022 soccer World Cup and plans to use momentum for the world’s most-watched tournament to build out related services
  • financial technology: QFC has partnered with such firms operating in Europe and India, and the government is financing startups in Qatar
  • digital businesses: The hub would include companies operating in health care, cloud-computing and cybersecurity
  • media: QFC is to provide a legal framework and facilities for a “media city” that wouldn’t be subject to government restrictions on speech

The center will continue to help its fund managers expand their assets, and plans to link up with Turkey and Malaysia to provide Islamic finance services worldwide, Al-Jaida said.