By Jonathan Saul, Marwa Rashad and Davide Barbuscia
LONDON / DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar plans to invest at least $ 10 billion in U.S. ports and has approached international banks for financial aid, three financial sources say in an infrastructure frenzy that reflects the deepening of the Gulf country’s ties with Washington.
Middle Eastern and Western sources familiar with the matter said Doha was targeting investments in ports around the U.S. east coast that were to be developed in phases, adding that the plan was at an early stage.
The country’s sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, and the Qatar Government Communication Office both declined to comment.
“The Qataris have been preparing for nearly a year to test the waters with US port investments,” said Michael Frodl, a US-based adviser on projects such as maritime security, trade and infrastructure, who knows well Qatar’s strategy.
“We believe that a savvy investor with the $ 10 billion Qataris want to invest in US port infrastructure would probably be interested first and foremost in the underserved east coast. The west coast is getting the full attention of the U.S. government and private investment, while the east coast has long awaited improvements. “
Frodl said ports with easy access to highways and railways would be a priority.
“We would consider mid-sized aging ports south of Boston and north of Jacksonville,” he added.
A Middle East-based source said the investments would be backed by debt, which would be linked to port assets, adding that Qatar was in talks with the banks to seek a structuring advisor.
Banks approached included Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Credit Suisse, two of the sources said.
Morgan Stanley, HSBC and Credit Suisse declined to comment.
In November, Congress approved US President Joe Biden’s $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure program, which port and industry sources say includes $ 5.22 billion in federal funding for port-specific programs. , which is less than the estimated tens of billions of dollars needed to invest in crisp infrastructure.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told an online press conference with the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 16 that while Washington provides a “historic level of funding” to improve ports, “everything cannot 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 kinds of resources we need,” Buttigieg said.
There are approximately 360 ports in the United States, according to the United States Coast Guard.
The Middle East-based source said Qatar may seek to target three port projects.
A fourth funding source separately confirmed Qatar’s investment plans in the United States.
Qatar currently has minimal stakes in overseas ports. However, last year, the operator of the state’s commercial ports, QTerminals, bought the Turkish port of Akdeniz and struck a deal to develop the Black Sea port of Olvia in Ukraine.
Relations between the United States and Qatar deepened after the small and wealthy Gulf monarchy forged close ties with the Taliban, playing a key role in the talks that led to the 2020 withdrawal agreement US troops from Afghanistan this year.
Washington and Doha signed an agreement in November for Qatar to represent US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan.
“Qatar’s interest in investing in US infrastructure dates back to at least 2016,” Frodl said.
“Things would have been more advanced without the previous Trump administration, which was closely aligned with the Saudis. “
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul and Marwa Rashad in London, Davide Barbuscia, Yousef Saba and Saeed Azhar in Dubai and Andrew Mills in Doha, edited by Rachel Armstrong and Susan Fenton)