How would you describe the current economic relationship between Qatar and the US?
THEROS: The US-Qatari relationship is as good as, or better than, it has ever been in the past. In several the sectors, including the oil and gas sector, I would say that the total US investment in Qatar is well in excess of $120bn, although I don’t know the exact figure. The US is not a customer of Qatar but just to put things in context, a couple years ago Exxon Mobil reported that 40% of its net worldwide profits came from its operations in Qatar. Because of the petroleum sector, I would say that there are, directly and indirectly, perhaps 200,000-250,000 American jobs dependent on the relationship with Qatar. In terms of American exports to Qatar, we are the biggest single source of imported goods. We have approximately 10,000 Americans working here at the moment, perhaps more. A good indicator of the US presence here is that there is a 2.5 year waiting list to get into the American School in Doha. So the community is thriving. The military relationship is, in the same way, quite good. Camp As Saliyah houses both Central Command Forward and the US Army’s biggest pre-positioning facility. Without As Saliyah, we would probably be hard-pressed to maintain our presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the region. The slogan of Council is that, frankly, Qatar is America’s best friend in the Gulf and I think I can make that claim with a certain degree of credibility.
How involved are US companies in the numerous infrastructure projects planned or underway as part of the 2022 World Cup and Qatar’s National Vision 2030?
THEROS: Major US contractors are in here like gangbusters. They are trying very hard. Out of the 15 companies that are shortlisted for the first phase of the Doha Metro, they are all joint-ventures, and I’d say 8 or 9 out of them have major American companies involved. Our problem is that there are a lot of very good American sub-contractors or specialists, people who do different kinds of contracting work. Getting them to come here and actually spend the six months to a year that it takes to get you into the market is like pulling teeth. Unfortunately, most American smaller companies, even the larger companies in fact, tend to treat each enterprise as a separate profit or revenue source. So I talk to them and I tell them that you need to come out here and you need to put somebody here and he needs to sit here for six months. It’s going to cost you half a million dollars to do that. The answer is that we can do that when we have a contract. To which my answer is that if you don’t put them out here you’re not going to get the contract. This, I think, is the single biggest obstacle; the mindset that I have to offset the money that I’m spending. My argument to them is, don’t treat it as a business expense; treat it like you do advertising and legal fees. But with the smaller companies in particular, it has been a drag and it has been very difficult to get them to come out here.
What are the most significant recent developments in the bilateral economic relationship between Qatar and the US?
THEROS: One area where things have changed only recently has been in Qatari reluctance to invest in the United States, large scale investment. There has been a lot of small scale investment, people buying homes and stuff like that. But other than the investment in the Golden Pass LNG facility in Sabine Pass, Texas, which was $15bn I believe, the next major direct Qatari investment in the United States has been the $700m investment in CityCenter in Washington, DC. It’s been a long time getting the Qataris to go for it. There have been a lot of reasons for it. One, is that I think the Qataris are much more conservative investors in many ways that their brethren in the Gulf. Secondly, we are far away and we are distant. It’s the flip of the problem that we have with small and medium sized companies. We have exceedingly complex laws and tax regimes. But I’m optimistic and I think that’s going in the right direction.
Qatar has played an increasingly important political role in the region. How well understood is Qatar’s regional political role in the US?
THEROS: One issue that I don’t think is fully understood in the United States has been the Qatari commitment to, perhaps democratization, but certainly the liberalization in the Arab world. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Al Jazeera was, not the primal cause, but certainly an important cause of what happened in Tunisia and what happened in Egypt. There is certainly, not only appears to be, but is certainly a very considerable Qatari commitment to the modernization, the political and social modernization, of the region. I think the Qataris see it in a very pragmatic way. You either move forward, you either advance democracy, you advance participatory government in the region, you advance the participation of Arab citizens in their countries, which will be a source of stability and a source of prosperity and everybody is better off in the future, or you sit on it and it blows up. I don’t think Qatar’s role in pushing forward in Libya, Syria and elsewhere has been fully understood and appreciated in the United States.
What is the nature of your relationship with US Business Councils in other GCC States?
THEROS: We have an excellent relationship with the UAE Council and the Saudi Council. We’re not competitive in a way; we’re actually very complimentary of each other’s efforts. We have been working lately, for example, with the US Trade Representative’s office in their efforts to revive some of the talks in the region on trade agreements between the GCC States. Frankly, those are the three countries that are drivers right now in the GCC when it comes to the relationship with the United States.
Major US contractors are in here like gangbusters. They are trying very hard. Out of the 15 companies that are shortlisted for the first phase of the Doha Metro, they are all joint-ventures, and I’d say 8 or 9 out of them have major American companies involved.
What initiatives does the Council have coming up to promote the bilateral relationship?
THEROS: In March we hope to put together a trade mission to come out here as part of an exhibition here in Qatar, aimed again at small to medium-sized enterprises. We’re making a special effort to recruit companies into the council in games related, World Cup related, projects. For example, in alternative energy, people involved in stadiums, people in transportation, particularly rail. That’s basically where our recruiting effort in the council is right now. We’re going to be working on trying to get a trade mission that’s regionally based out of Chicago. That’s on our schedule right now and it’s still in the process of forming and that would be in May.