Italy and Qatar: Business and Bilateral Agreements

In 2004, The Italian Business Council of Qatar (IBCQ) was established in Doha when the Italian population was just slightly more than 300. “There was a need for a community organization to allow people to socialize through dinners or informal gatherings,” says the Palma Libotte, Chairperson of IBCQ.

Libotte adds how IBCQ scope and mission was completely transformed in 2009 in order to support the requirements of Italian companies and businessmen in Qatar’s booming economy. Conversely, the Italian ambassador handed the social network of IBCQ to Libotte who is incharge to facilitate the entry market for Italian companies and develop strong relationships with the Qatari and international business community.

“In 2013, the Ministry of Foreign Development in Italy (MISE) formally endorsed IBCQ as the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, recognizing the importance of this association,” adds Libotte. At present, they are situated in the headquarters of the Qatari Businessmen Association, which own the most prominent top holdings in Doha, and their honorary president is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Thani, a member of the royal family.

Since 2013 onwards IBCQ has evolved from communicating through a website and an annual magazine to social media platforms. “We have created dedicated platforms for specific sectors of interest under the name of Follow Italy in Qatar. There are accounts for furniture, tourism, lifestyle, wedding and FIFA 2022, where companies servicing these specific sectors can showcase their products and service before coming to Qatar to verify interest.”

She further explicates how they organize two major networking events with more than 500 participants called ‘Back to Business Qatar’ to follow up on market trends and facilitate new ventures. “As well as many private small events involving Qataris that have great appreciation of our culture.”

In sequence to succeed in business, Libotte highlights how it is crucial to comprehend the Qatari culture. As Arab countries throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are based on relationships and social networks. “Business models in the GCC are predominantly socially based and relationships between people have more importance than dealings,” she continues, “The importance of interpersonal and social networks [who knows who] stems from tribal traditions, and understanding their mechanism is paramount to succeed in the Arab business world.”

As a result, the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Qatar has been an entryway for both Italian and Qatari businessmen to develop business ventures. “Communication and social connections are vital to succeed in these markets and we are lucky to have a very media friendly Ambassador Paquale Salzano that has contributed immensely to all the successful ventures that Italy and Qatar are currently involved.”

Conversely, although it does take time to consolidate solid relations with local Qatari entrepreneurs. In other to overcome those challenges Libotte adds how the trust factor is achieved when personal relationships are developed after several meetings. Those frequent meetings are intended to understand the local culture, in addition to sharing aspects of Italian principles, however, bearing in mind, and with total respect to the conservative Arab traditions.

The main export products from Italy to Qatar for many years include furniture interiors, building materials, industrial machinery, and high-end goods. In the first six months of 2018, trade volume stood at €1.4bn.

“In the last two years the trend is changing and we are also exporting food a remarkable agreement with Italian association Coldiretti was signed with Lulu Hypermarkets.” Lulu Hypermarket is an Indian conglomerate company, which operates a chain of hypermarkets and retail throughout the GCC. Furthermore, the Qatari Defence Ministry in 2016 accorded with Fincantieri to build seven new state of the art military ships to upgrade Qatar’s royal navy. Correspondingly, there are several bilateral agreements in the tourism sector when Qatar Airways acquired shares in Air Italy and Qatar invested in Costa Smeralda Sardinia luxury resorts.

In reference to the cultural field, Qatar has several bilateral agreements with prestigious Italian universities and recently, during the official state visit to Doha of Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister unveiled The Dante Alighieri Institute of Italian Culture of the World, and their office shall be situated in Italian Chamber of Commerce in Qatar.

“Global managers today to succeed should possess cultural intelligence that enables you to read through the influence of cultural, religious and historical factors that can influence your business dealings. Our SME’s often approach Qatar with the wrong attitude, and they don’t spend enough time to develop relationships, this is why they need our support,” concludes Libotte.