The Australian government has said it will open its first diplomatic office in Qatar in an effort to simplify the lives of the thousands of its citizens living here, as well as build upon the QR3.48 billion (A$1.2 billion) trading relationship.
The announcement was contained in Australia’s federal budget, which allocated QR285.44 million (A$98.3 million) to open new overseas missions in Qatar, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand.
No timeline or location has been set for the new embassy, but officials said they expect the budgeted amount to be spent by the end of the government’s fiscal year in June 2016.
There are some 4,500 to 5,000 Australian expats living in Qatar, primarily working in professional fields including healthcare, education and construction management.
Currently, they receive consular service from the Australian embassy in Abu Dhabi and its ambassador, Pablo Kang, who also represents his country in Qatar.
Speaking to Doha News by phone today, Kang said:
“It’s a very welcome announcement … (that) reflects a growing bilateral relationship that we have with Qatar.”
Rachel Morris, who chairs the Qatar Australia New Zealand Business Association in Doha, said the community has been well-served by its representatives in the UAE, which regularly visited Qatar to hold passport clinics and attest documents.
However, she said having an embassy in Doha would offer logistical relief to many Australians in Qatar.
“We get a lot of questions on how one renews a passport … It’s a really exciting time because so many of us have been waiting for it,” Morris said.
Business and trade
The presence of an embassy is often viewed as a way of boosting trade between two countries.
Australia sent more than QR1.48 billion (A$502 million) in goods to Qatar in 2013, an increase of nearly 1 percent over the previous year, according to that country’s government. Its exports to Qatar are dominated by live animals, motor vehicles, meat and wheat.
But its imports from from Qatar are growing at a faster pace, adding up to more than QR2.1 billion (A$724 million) in 2013, which was up nearly 12 percent over the previous year and consisted almost entirely of LNG products and fertilizers.
This country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, is also active in Australia. It has invested in Australia’s wheat, barley and other grain-producing farms, as well as sheep properties, in support of Qatar’s food security strategy.
Several Australian companies have a notable presence in Qatar, including engineering firm GHD and office provider Servecorp.
The country’s keenness to boost ties with the region was on display last month when Andrew Robb, Australia’s trade and investment minister, visited Qatar and several other Gulf states.
A real privilege to meet with Qatar's Prime Minister His Excellency Al Thani today. pic.twitter.com/t5Gy7SRcEE
— Andrew Robb (@AndrewRobbAO) April 16, 2015
Before he departed Australia, Robb said in a statement he would use his visit to push for the resumption of free trade negotiations with the GCC.
“This will be my third visit to the Gulf in 12 months, which indicates the priority Australia places on further deepening trade and investment links with this dynamic region,” Robb stated.
Morris told Doha News that she was asked by Robb what the biggest barrier was for Australia to expand its business relationship with Qatar.
“The lack of an embassy,” Morris replied. “Having an embassy here is very important. It shows that Australia takes its relationship with Qatar very seriously.”