Swiss companies in Qatar – one in particular is benefiting from the FIFA World Cup

The Education City Stadium in ar-Rayyan, the venue of the FIFA World Cup, was partially built by the Swiss company Nüssli.Image: keystone

The World Cup begins in Qatar. The Swiss national football team also participates in the tournament. But what about Switzerland’s economic relations with Qatar? One company in particular benefits significantly from the World Cup.

Pascal Michel and Florence Vuichard / ch media

Far behind in 63rd place is Qatar, at least in the ranking of Switzerland’s most important trading partners. The volume of trade between the two countries was just over 700 million francs last year, roughly twice as much before Corona. The formula, on the other hand, has not changed: the flow of goods is mainly in one direction: from Switzerland to Qatar – mainly in the form of jewelry and watches, precious metals and pharmaceutical products.

Imports from the desert state, on the other hand, are negligible, also because Switzerland is not a customer of Qatar’s main export: gas. At least not until now.

But despite the exemplary construction, Nüssli no longer wants to talk about the project publicly.

But Qatar still wants to be more than just a source of gas. Like all other Gulf states, this country realized a few years ago that this business model based entirely on fossil fuels is not sustainable. Diversification has been the watchword ever since. And that’s the right time when the final round of the soccer world cup comes, starting on Sunday, November 20. In total, Qatar is said to have invested a good $200 billion with the football festival in mind – which in turn has brought lucrative contracts to companies from around the world.

Swiss restraint

Not all countries benefited equally. In any case, the success of the Swiss companies was rather modest. A big exception is the Thurgau company Nüssli. A stand builder installed a cooled, removable stand system with 16,500 seats in less than 250 days at the Education City Stadium in ar-Rayyan, which now has a capacity of 40,000 and is the venue for several group games. It will be dismantled after the World Cup so that the stadium can be used for smaller, local sports events.

epa10253926 Photo taken on November 30, 2020 at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan before the AFC Champions League soccer match between FC Tokyo and Ulsan Hyundai.  The 45,350-seat venue will...

An educational city stadium in the city of ar-Rayyan with removable bleachers by Nüssli.Image: keystone

Nüssli has previously developed concepts for modular construction and modular expansion of existing stadiums for the attention of World Cup organizers. All this should contribute to the sustainability of the World Cup. But despite the exemplary construction, Nüssli no longer wants to talk about the project publicly. The Education City Stadium was completed three years ago and is well documented on the website.

You will read there that the heat presented a special challenge during the construction work. Some work had to be done in night shifts. Nüssli does not want to say how big the project’s order volume was. The cost of the entire stadium is estimated at $700 million.

In Implenia, they also want nothing to do with Qatar anymore. Back in 2013, a Swiss group together with an international consortium applied for the construction of a new metro route, but got nothing. Today, one seems to be almost happy with the defeat of that time. The said metro offer for Qatar was made “under the old management of Implenia”, says spokeswoman Eva Heimrich. This no longer corresponds to the current strategy applied since 2019.

And to avoid misunderstandings: Implenia has “no projects or other activities in Qatar, neither in real estate nor in infrastructure construction”.

There are only a few Swiss companies in Qatar

The human rights abuses and deaths that have come to light in connection with the construction of the World Cup are causing some embarrassment in Qatar – as well as in the Swiss corporate scene. And for even more restraint towards the desert state.

According to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), around 30 companies from Switzerland have settled in Qatar. They employed almost 1000 people. Most of them have been there for a long time, establishing themselves here even before Qatar secured a World Cup bid. Swiss companies with local presence include Nestlé, ABB, Holcim, Sika and Endress + Hauser.

Most of these are suppliers in the infrastructure and energy sectors – such as measuring instrument specialist Endress + Hauser, which settled in Qatar in 2009 and currently has 16 employees there. Customers include the oil and gas industry, the petrochemical industry and the water and wastewater industry, explains spokesman Martin Raab. “But the World Cup was and is not the driver of our business in Qatar.

The presence of Holcim also has nothing to do with football. The cement giant has been operating in Qatar “for more than 20 years and has a local presence with companies that are jointly owned with local partners,” as Holcim spokesperson Yves Böni points out.

ABB has been in Qatar even longer. The industrial group – respectively its two predecessor companies Asea and BBC – has been present here since 1960 and today has two branches, in Doha and Ras Laffan, with a total of about 100 employees. “ABB’s current business activities in Qatar are very limited and represent approximately 0.5 percent of ABB Group’s annual sales,” ABB spokesman Lukas Matt said.

A small country with high obstacles

All the Swiss companies interviewed emphasized without question that they are committed to promoting internationally recognized human rights and to strict standards in the areas of sustainability, environment, health and safety.

Many more Swiss companies should not move to Qatar. In any case, the interest is moderate, as Suhail El Obeid, who is responsible for the Middle East region at the Swiss export promotion organization Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE), knows. If Swiss companies want to do business in this region, then primarily with Saudi Arabia or possibly the United Arab Emirates.

Originally, El Obeid and his S-GE team wanted to invite Swiss companies to “Club Suisse Doha 2022”, a meeting place at the World Cup venue hosted by the Swiss embassy, ​​which includes a restaurant that will serve traditional Swiss food. But this was not possible, because at this time only those who have a ticket to the World Cup can enter Germany.

The obstacles for doing business are therefore high, the attractiveness of the market rather modest. Qatar is a small country with a population of just 2.5 million, says El Obeid. Moreover, only ten percent come from Qatar – and they have the money to buy Swiss products. “So it’s really a very small market for Swiss companies.”

The Federal Council as a door opener

Despite the small potential, Switzerland has created the necessary framework for greater economic exchange with Qatar with a package of agreements – investment protection, double taxation, free trade and air transport.

In addition, members of the government repeatedly act as door openers. Over the past year and a half, Finance Minister Ueli Maurer traveled to Doha twice with an entourage from the financial sector, and once received Qatari Finance Minister Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari for talks in Switzerland.

After a pandemic-related slump in 2021, trade between Switzerland and Qatar is picking up again – back to old levels. According to Seco spokesman Fabian Maienfisch, the volume of business for the first nine months of the current year is already around 2 billion francs. Construction is also progressing: Qatar, for example, wants to build a new museum landscape – with the help of Basel architects Herzog & de Meuron. It seems that the corona diver has been overcome. With or without football. (aargauerzeitung.ch)

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