DOHA (Reuters) - International firms have shown increasing interest in launching regional operations in Qatar, one of the few countries worldwide expected to show strong growth in 2009, the Qatar Financial Center Authority (QFCA) said.
The authority's chief executive, Stuart Pearce, told the Reuters Investment Summit on Monday that 10-15 global firms were "in the pipeline" to start operations in the Gulf Arab state through QFCA this year. He declined to identify them.
"There's big interest from European and American firms in terms of asset management," said Pearce. "Some firms are talking about moving their Middle East and North Africa investment management platforms to Qatar."
Asked if he expected firms to move their regional operations from Dubai to Qatar, Pearce said some companies were "evaluating their options," adding that it was to early too predict a trend.
"We've been told in the past by some firms with reasonable operations in Dubai that they see business in Qatar rather than there," he said.
Pearce said he had seen a surge in inquiries from firms in the last month, as many review their regional plans.
Dubai is the Gulf region's trade and tourism hub which established itself as a center for the regional operations of many international firms.
Qatar's economy is expected to grow in real terms by 7-9 percent in 2009, depending on the price of oil, the country's economy and finance minister said in July.
OPEC member Qatar is the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas and aims to become a financial, educational and health hub for the region.
"A lot of firms we've been talking to for some time have put their plans for the Middle East on hold ... Now they are saying 'let's get this plan off the shelf'," he said. "There's been a re-energizing of old contacts, and lots of new ones."
Around 115 firms are now registered with the QFC, which is vying along with financial zones in Dubai and Bahrain to attract regional and global finance companies as their economies try to diversify from a reliance on oil and gas revenues.
But the QFC's model differs from that of Dubai. While the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) is a freezone governed by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), companies licensed by the QFC operate under Qatari laws and are considered to be Qatari firms.
Pearce said the financial crisis had a positive impact on the QFCA, with companies looking at Qatar as an alternative financial hub.
Qatar has been pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure, real estate, and education projects to diversify its economy away from energy.
"In early 2008, many firms...were questioning whether the Dubai model was one that suited their business strategy," said Pearce. "There was talk that perhaps the sustainability of the Dubai model was under some threat and that firms wanted to relocated either to Abu Dhabi or Qatar."
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