Qatar is one of the easiest places in the Middle East for a foreign company or entrepreneur to set up and grow his business since far-reaching changes made by the Qatari government five years ago,the Qatar Business and Investment Forum was told on Wednesday. Chairman and chief executive of the Qatar Financial Center-Regulatory Authority, Philip Thorpe told the audience at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that "access to markets" in the Middle East "can be very problematic" for foreign companies. But that changed in Qatar in 2006 when the government established the QFC, Thorpe said. "In doing that, it created a parallel legal system alongside the existing state laws, which were out of date, restrictive and inhibitive in terms of entry," Thorpe told the forum." The QFC legal system is based on English common law with a separate court and separate regulator," he said, meaning that Qatar now has business standards "you would expect to find anywhere in developed markets." The new system has dramatically thrown open the doors for foreign companies to set up in Qatar, he said. "There are no more restrictions, which you used to see in the region and in Doha," Thorpe said. "There are no restrictions on ownership, repatriation of capital, or on who you can employ." The result has been a huge increase in the number of foreign companies setting up in Qatar. "We have seen 130 or more new companies established in Qatar in the last five years," Thorpe said. The big changes in Qatar's economy are working both ways, however. No only are more foreign companies coming to do business in Qatar, but many more Qatari business are operating abroad. F or his part, Chief executive of QNB, Ali Sharif Al-Emadi said about eight years ago the bank was only operating in two foreign countries. Today QNB has expanded to 30 countries on four continents around the globe. "Qatari banks are not expanding just for the sake of expanding,: Al-Emadi said. "We go where the Qatari economy is going, with our domestic clients and foreign partnerships." Qatar has also opened up for foreign banks to come to the country, he said. Today there are six commercial, four Islamic and seven international banks in the country, the most being foreign, Al-Emadi said. Meanwhile the exchange''s chief executive, Andre Went said,''''Likewise the Qatar Stock Exchange has seen phenomenal growth in the just past few years''''. ''''Such success at home is not enough for the exchange, however, Went said. "The exchange wants to develop from a domestic player to a more diversified and more international regional player," he told the forum. "We want to make it easier for international investors to take part," Went said. Established by a handful of companies in 1995, today the Qatar Stock Exchange has 40 companies listed with more than $110 billion in market capitalization.