The Italian Chamber of Commerce, established in 2004 in Doha, under the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, therefore as a governmental entity, acts as a gateway for all Italian companies interested in Qatar.
“Initially, it operated as a business council promoting activities for Italian companies in Qatar. At the time there were only 300 Italian residents,” says Palma Libotte, chairperson of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Qatar. “In 2010, I was elected as President, and the population had doubled meanwhile. I introduced an array of services to support Italian companies that wanted to access the Qatari market,” she tells BQ in an exclusive interview.
Libotte also reveals how a website and a published magazine assisted in creating awareness of the existence of their association in Italy. In addition, the Italian Embassy in Qatar also supported, and patronised all their initiatives.
Presently, the Italian population in the country is approximately 1400, which is a 400 per cent increase in ten years. “Italians are drawn to Qatar for opportunities in construction, interior design and engineering, however, there is also a platform for professionals in the fields of medicine, sports, aviation, teaching and finance in the country,” says Libotte.
According to Libotte, Salini Impregilo is one of the most prominent Italian businesses visible within the country, which operates in construction. “It is our main company and it has been awarded the red line project and recently one of the new stadiums. Rizzani de Eccher is also working on a segment of the red line and other major construction projects. In addition, Augusta Westland, Anas and Tozzi Qatar are also handling big projects.”
Speaking of their role in assisting Italian companies who want to enter the local market, Libotte says: “Our services are tailor made to suit the different needs of each company. We assist companies by arranging simple business meetings, matchmaking events, expositions, and seminars – highlighting opportunities in Qatar through our mailing lists with the organisations in Italy and our social media platforms.”
Events, public relations and media are offered to the major companies for visibility or high-level networking. “The Back to Business Networking event is the biggest event that we cater to with more than 600 participants. This event is dedicated to professionals who wish to expand their contacts in Qatar, and are supported by important sponsors that reach a wide target audience of managerial people within Doha.”
This year the Back to Business Networking event will be held on 14 October at the Intercontinental Doha Hotel.
Qataris travel to Italy for both leisure and investment. Their main interests besides tourism include real estate, industrial machinery, furniture manufacturing and luxury goods. “Qatar Airways operates daily flights to Milano, Rome and Venice. In addition, Qatari businessmen own hotels in all these locations. The most recent acquisition is a five star hotel, Boscolo located in Rome, by Al Faisal Holding,” says Libotte.
Libotte explains how Italy mostly exports to Qatar industrial machinery, helicopters, luxury goods, furniture, automobiles and jewellery. “Bilateral exchange figures are EUR 3.35 billion; bilateral trade between Italy and Qatar has been growing for several years, although since 2008 Italian exports to Qatar have declined, while imports from Qatar have been on the rise, mainly due to the completion of the Adriatic LNG terminal in Rovigo, opened in autumn 2009.”
As a result, with exports of EUR 1.2 billion in 2013, Italy is Qatar’s fifth largest supplier after the United States of America, China, Japan and Germany.
Industrial technologies play a significant role in our exports, and prospects are promising in various sectors related to Qatar’s urban development process,
continues Libotte, “The substantial tenders awarded to Italian companies over 2012 and 2013, mostly in the infrastructure sector (the largest of which was worth EUR 1.7 billion awarded to a JV led by Impregilo Salini within the Doha Metro project) also contributed to this positive framework.
Italy has a lot to offer Qatar in term of goods. For instance, building materials with features that are technologically advanced and green, medium range fashion products, fabrics, marine equipment, and industrial machinery, since these are the most sought after products in Qatar.
She adds: “As for expertise, we could offer training in many fields: security consultancy and training of staff on construction sites, mechanic’s training for cars, yachts and motors in general and related jobs in the beauty and hospitality sectors. Italians are flexible people, able to work in a team and adapt quickly to different work environments and this is a plus in fast growing countries like Qatar.”
On another note, despite the positive bilateral trade between both nations, there are some obstacles Italian investors face when trying to establish a business in Doha. For instance, finding a location since rents are relatively high, adding to the bureaucracy.
“[Plus], the obligation of having a sponsor, which owns 51 percent of the company is not very encouraging, especially for SME’s. In order to diversify the economy there is a need for SMEs, and Qatar’s government is now working on solutions to facilitate their access to the market,” Libotte explains.
Libotte advises Italian investors not to rush into things prior to setting up a business in Qatar. In other words, to study the market first and conduct a thorough feasibility study with the support of a long term experienced professional or associations like the Italian Chamber operating in Qatar.
“Many sectors have saturated and some well established companies are sometimes struggling to get projects, so there is no need for more. Listening to case histories is also important, Qatar is a promising yet difficult market – it takes time and investment to succeed. Finding a reliable sponsor and building a network of contacts is important. Presence in this market is a ‘must’, once they have verified that there are opportunities for their sector,” Libotte concludes.