RE­JU­VE­NAT­ING OLD TRADE TIES

The newly launched Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce in Qatar has a man­date to help SMEs in both coun­tries, says Peter Cook, the man at the helm of the project.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THE ISSUE -

The newly launched Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce in Qatar has a man­date to help SMEs in both the coun­tries, says Peter Cook, the man at the helm of the project.

Afew days be­fore the Lord Mayor of the City of Lon­don Al­der­man Alan Yar­row is due in Doha to of­fi­cially inaugurate the Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce (BCC), we had a sit down with Gareth O'Brien, the Direc­tor of Trade and In­vest­ment at the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Qatar, and Peter Cook, charged with head­ing the new en­tity. Con­sid­er­ing the deep and his­toric ties be­tween the United King­dom and Qatar, a Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce is one of those things you as­sume Qatar has un­til you hear oth­er­wise. Peter Cook nods. A ca­reer diplo­mat who was posted to Doha 24 years ago, he is back to head this long- over­due in­sti­tu­tion and em­bark on an

"What the me­dia cov­er­age in the UK about Qatar, good or oth­er­wise, has done is raise aware­ness about the coun­try's po­ten­tial."

GARETH O'BRIEN Direc­tor of Trade and In­vest­ment Bri­tish Em­bassy, Qatar

“im­por­tant new adventure.”

Work­ing closely with the em­bassy and UK Trade and In­vest­ment (UKTI) (which will also be ini­tially fund­ing it till it can be self-sus­tain­ing), the Cham­ber has a man­date to “sup­port busi­ness, bring them to­gether and in the process fa­cil­i­tate dia­logue on trade, in­vest­ment and tech­nol­ogy ex­change be­tween the two coun­tries”. This was some­thing set in mo­tion by Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron a cou­ple of years ago, Cook says. “He recog­nised that BCCs all around the world must be strength­ened for bet­ter over­all trade per­for­mance; in many coun­tries where cham­bers al­ready ex­isted, they were a a bit out of date and needed fresh en­ergy, and in other coun­tries, like Qatar, there wasn't one to begin with and we had to start from scratch.” The BCC in Qatar is part of broader po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion to have a stronger net­work of in­sti­tu­tions around the world help­ing Bri­tish com­pa­nies pen­e­trate new mar­kets. Forty one new cham­bers are due to open soon, we are told. In the re­gion, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Ara­bia, along with Qatar, will be part of first wave.

The BCC in Qatar has its eyes set on the SME play­ers. O'Brien's team of 11 trade and in­vest­ment pro­fes­sion­als at the em­bassy deals with all man­ner of Bri­tish com­pa­nies look­ing to make in­roads in Qatar. But the need was felt for a bet­ter fo­cus on the “thou­sands of small and medium busi­nesses who ap­proach the UKTI ev­ery year,” ac­cord­ing to him. In the months to come, many of th­ese com­pa­nies will find them­selves work­ing closely with the BCC. “The larger com­pa­nies might work closely with the em­bassy be­cause the needs of the com­pany would re­quire that level of sup­port,” Cook says, “The re­la­tion­ship be­tween us [BCC and UKTI] is good so we can de­liver ser­vices across a wide range of com­pa­nies. Our work will be com­ple­men­tary so that no one is left be­hind.”

This spot­light on SMEs couldn't have come at a bet­ter time, both for the BCC and the Qatar gov­ern­ment. “Qatar is mak­ing a big push for ex­pand­ing the coun­try's SME sec­tor,” O'Brien points out. “We'd like to help with that by work­ing with them to drum up busi­ness, de­velop con­tacts in Bri­tish com­pa­nies and cre­ate stronger links be­tween the two coun­try's SMEs.” This will in­clude show­ing Qatari com­pa­nies the op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist in the UK for them and the part­ner­ships that they can make to ad­vance their busi­ness in­ter­ests. “Qataris are very familiar with Lon­don. But there are other parts to the UK that they don't know so much about. We want to in­tro­duce them to busi­nesses and in­dus­tries there (there are 52 lo­cal cham­bers of com­merce in the UK alone) and give them the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion on reg­u­la­tion and a plat­form for net­work­ing,” Cook says.

Talk­ing about the other side, while Bri­tish SMEs con­tinue to show in­ter­est in the tra­di­tional sec­tors like en­ergy, in­fra­struc­ture, con­struc­tion & con­tract­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Cook's am­bi­tion is to go be­yond that and stim­u­late in­ter­est in new sec­tors. “We are very ex­cited about build­ing up ar­eas where Qatar hasn't been tra­di­tion­ally strong by bring­ing in new ex­per­tise. The UK has a di­verse econ­omy, is strong in many sec­tors, and so we can help Qatar pull ahead in th­ese sec­tors.” Which is, again, ex­actly the di­rec­tion that Qatar wants to go in.

Cook and his small team will al­most im­me­di­ately start lay­ing the ground­work

for th­ese big dreams. Speak­ing about the range of ser­vices the BCC will be rolling out shortly, he says, “Any busi­ness­man com­ing to Qatar knows it takes a while to set up the com­pany. They might find it daunt­ing – a dif­fer­ent lan­guage, cul­ture and busi­ness pro­cesses. So part of our ser­vice is to make that as smooth, easy and quick as pos­si­ble. Also, there is a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist here. So an­other ser­vice we'd like to de­velop is ad­ver­tis­ing th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­pa­nies across the UK and rais­ing Qatar's pro­file there so that it is ac­cu­rate and closer to the pic­ture of what's hap­pen­ing down here.” In the long term, the BCC will work to­wards self-fi­nanc­ing its op­er­a­tions through its ser­vices and in­vest­ing prof­its in as­sets that could fur­ther sup­port new projects and ven­tures.

The chal­lenge for SMEs will be to bal­ance their long-term vi­sion with the short-term re­al­ity. “Though some SMEs tend to look to the fu­ture, most have to con­cern them­selves with short-term sur­vival. They'd love to be here do­ing busi­ness in ten years, but for them it's more about next month. So we have to con­vince them of both the long and short-term prospects. Yes, there is a bright fu­ture here for Bri­tish com­pa­nies but they have to take steps to pre­pare them­selves for that by in­vest­ing sen­si­bly, mak­ing the right part­ner­ships in the sec­tors and build­ing up their busi­nesses to be well placed for the fu­ture,” says Cook, point­ing out that his em­pha­sis is to per­suade com­pa­nies that short and medium are just as good as the long term, but the long term is why they are mak­ing the in­vest­ment to­day.

When asked whether the re­cent bout of neg­a­tive press in Qatar may in­flu­ence Bri­tish com­pa­nies look­ing to do busi­ness here, O'Brien says, “What the cov­er­age in the UK, good or oth­er­wise, has done is raise the aware­ness about Qatar. We are now get­ting more en­quiries from Bri­tish com­pa­nies than ever. They don't just look at the head­lines but dig down for the de­tails and see the po­ten­tial. There is a huge in­ter­est, es­pe­cially around the FIFA World Cup and the re­lated in­fra­struc­ture, and there is enough busi­ness for ev­ery­one.”

"We are very ex­cited about build­ing up ar­eas where Qatar hasn’t been tra­di­tion­ally strong by bring­ing in new ex­per­tise."

PETER COOK Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce, Qatar

Lord Mayor of the City of Lon­don Al­der­man Alan Yar­row at the Bri­tish Em­bassy in Qatar to inaugurate the new Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce.

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