His Highness the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, gave a significant speech at the opening of the 46th Ordinary Session of the Shura Council on November 14, 2017. The Emir’s speech highlighted three key priorities of the Qatar government: the economic development of the country; expanding international trade; and strengthening public authorities in the State. The Emir’s speech described steps the government has already taken in these priority areas. The Emir’s speech also suggests there may be further legal and regulatory initiatives in the future in these priority areas. I address each of them below.
First: National Economic Development
His Highness pointed out the need to minimise the administrative complications and formalities that may impede investment in economic development.
One of the first laws issued in this regard is the Free Zones Law (Law No. 21 of 2017, which amends certain provisions of Law No. 34 of 2005 regarding Investment Free Zones). The Free Zones Law grants nationals and foreign investors various new benefits, including the freedom to determine the legal form of a business entity without being restricted to the types of companies approved by the Qatari Commercial Companies Law (Law No. 11 of 2015). In addition, foreign investors can own all of a company’s share capital without regard to the restrictions on foreign ownership otherwise applicable to companies pursuant to the Foreign Investment Law (Law No. 13 of 2000). Other benefits include a 20-year tax exemption period that is also renewable by a decision of the Council of Ministers, unification of the regulator and license issuer for companies registered in free zones, customs exemptions, and freedom from the restrictions of the Commercial Agencies Law (Law No. 8 of 2002). Additionally, disputes related to the free zones or entities registered in the free zones may be settled before a special tribunal through conciliation and arbitration.
In his speech, the Emir also addressed the need to increase the availability of financing for projects and to strengthen the role of the private sector as a key partner with the government in growing the economy. One of the most important legislative initiatives expected in this context is a Public-Private Partnership Law, which will support the economic development of the State, attract private sector investment, and encourage domestic and foreign investment in the implementation of infrastructure projects.
Furthermore, Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as the first country in the region to organise such a large international sporting event, will lead to a revision of Law No. 6 of 2012 on the Regulation of Tourism, especially in light of the State’s directives to implement a Strategic Tourism Plan.
Noteworthy, as well, is the Industrial Zones Law, which was recently approved by the Council of Ministers and passed on to the Shura Council. This law consists of twenty-one articles regulating businesses within the established industrial zones, which will allow investors to utilise the industrial zones for manufacturing and related activities. The Industrial Zones Law will grant the investor a grace period of twelve months to complete their industrial project from the date of the lease. It is expected that this Law will support the development of various industries, particularly relating to the oil and gas sector and the national food security strategy.
Second: Expanding International Trade
The blockade imposed on the State of Qatar, which involves closure of the only land border between Qatar and the rest of the world, has significantly affected the transport of goods into the country. This will require development of the maritime and air transport industries as well as supporting legislation. The inauguration of Hamad Port, one of the largest and most modern ports in the Middle East, is a significant advancement in creating a new logistics and import facility. In his speech, the Emir affirmed that several agreements have been signed with notable shipping lines to link Hamad Port with international ports in Turkey, China, Taiwan, Oman, and Australia.
In this context, there is a vital need to reconsider Qatar’s Maritime Law No. 15 of 1980. The maritime transport industry has witnessed many developments, such as electronic bills of lading, backhauls, multi-points of entry, and co-loading, which the current legislative framework does not address. International conventions relating to the international carriage of goods, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Carriage of Goods by Sea, signed at Hamburg on 31 March 1978, are also notable instruments that the State of Qatar should take into account. Additionally, the feasibility of acceding to the Rotterdam Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods by Sea is a matter worthy of consideration.
In addition to Articles 216-232 of the Trade Law No. 27 of 2006 that regulate air carriage, Qatar is a party to the Convention on the Unification of Certain International Air Transport Rules, also known as the Montreal Convention. However, since its establishment in 1997, Qatar Airways has grown into a global carrier and major force in the air transport industry, with more than 150 destinations and a fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft. Development of the legislative framework governing the air transport of goods and people is essential. This is especially the case as the world stands on the edge of space tourism and several countries in the region have established national space agencies.
Third: Strengthening Public Authorities in the State
The Emir announced in his speech to the Shura Council that preparations are under way for Shura Council elections, including the preparation of draft legislation to ensure the proper conduct of such elections. These steps are consistent with the provisions of Article 78 of the Permanent Constitution of the State of Qatar of the Year 2004, which provides for the election of two-thirds of the members of the Shura Council pursuant to a law specifying the conditions and procedures for nomination of candidates and election of members. There is no doubt that this important initiative will broaden the voices participating in the development of public policies and is step toward an effective and independent legislature.
The judiciary was also addressed in the speech of His Highness the Emir. The Emir pointed to the need to develop the justice system to ensure the independence of the judiciary and to avoid protracted court proceedings. The Emir also stated the necessity of increasing the human, administrative and organisational resources available to the courts, the public prosecution, and associated bodies, and the need establish branches of those entities in different areas of the country.
Strengthening the legislative and judicial authorities in Qatar shows support for the principle of the rule of law, and is an important step towards greater effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness in the country’s legal system. This will have a positive effect on the investment environment because investors will have assurance that their rights and obligations will be determined in transparent legal system and before an independent and effective judiciary.
It is clear that 2017 has been a busy year of legislative initiatives to implement the priorities stated by His Highness the Emir, and that more busy years will follow. The process of developing legislation should reflect the cultural values and the nature of Qatari society, without relying too heavily on the experiences of others or simply adopt legislation from other jurisdictions. This, of course, does not mean that the legislative vision should be limited; on the contrary, Qatar can benefit from legislation that reflects contemporary developments in other countries and international best practices so long as they are in line with the national legislative environment, the public interest, and the needs and priorities of the country.
His Highness the Emir, in his speech to the Shura Council, encouraged everyone concerned with legislation in the State to pay great attention to the legislative process. He expressed his aspiration for an active legislative agenda to advance and protect the interests of the State, its citizens and its residents.
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