Qatar plans to invest at least $10 billion in U.S. ports and has approached international banks for financial assistance, three financial sources said, in an infrastructure rush that reflects the Gulf country’s deepening ties with Washington.
The Middle Eastern and Western sources familiar with the matter said Doha was targeting investments in ports around the U.S. east coast that are expected to unfold in phases, adding that the plan was at a preliminary stage.
The country’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, and the Qatar Government Communications Office declined to comment.
“The Qataris have been preparing to test the waters with port investments in the U.S. for almost a year now,” said Michael Frodl, a U.S.-based consultant on projects including maritime security, trade and infrastructure, who is familiar with Qatar’s strategy.
“We think an astute investor with the $10 billion the Qataris want to invest in port infrastructure in the U.S. would probably look first and foremost at the underserved East Coast. The West Coast is getting all the attention from the U.S. government and private investment, while the East Coast is long overdue for improvements.”
Frodl said ports with easy access to highways and rail lines would be a priority.
“We would be looking at aging mid-sized ports south of Boston and north of Jacksonville,” he added.
A Middle East source said the investments would be backed by debt, which would be tied to port assets, adding that Qatar was in early discussions with banks to seek a structuring advisor.
Among the banks approached are Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Credit Suisse, according to two of the sources.
In November, Congress passed the U.S. President’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which port and industry sources say includes $5.22 billion in federal funding for port-specific programs, falling short of the estimated tens of billions of dollars needed to invest in creaking infrastructure.
On Nov. 16, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told an online briefing with the Port of Los Angeles that while Washington was providing a “historic level of funding” to improve ports, “it can’t all come from federal grants.”
“We’re going to have to continue to work with local, state and private partners to make sure we have the kind of resources that are needed,” Buttigieg said.
There are about 360 ports in the United States, according to the Coast Guard.
The Middle East source said Qatar may pursue three port projects.
A fourth financial source separately confirmed Qatar’s investment plans in the United States.
Qatar currently has minimal involvement in overseas ports. However, last year the state’s commercial port operator, QTerminals, bought the Turkish port of Akdeniz and struck a deal to develop the Black Sea port of Olvia in Ukraine.
U.S.-Qatar relations have grown closer after the small, wealthy Gulf monarchy forged close ties with the Taliban, playing a key role in talks that led to the 2020 agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year.
Washington and Doha signed an agreement in November for Qatar to represent U.S. diplomatic interests in Afghanistan.
“Qatari interest in investing in U.S. infrastructure goes back at least to 2016,” Frodl said.
“Things would have progressed further had it not been for the previous Trump administration, which was closely aligned with the Saudis.”