The economic growth of Qatar has been almost exclusively based on its petrol and natural gas industry, which began in 1940. The country has experienced rapid growth over the last several years due to high oil prices, and in 2008 posted its eighth consecutive budget surplus. Economic policy is focused on developing Qatar's non-associated natural gas reserves and increasing private and foreign investment in non-energy sectors, but oil and gas still account for more than 50% of GDP; roughly 85% of export earnings, and 70% of government revenues.
Oil and gas have made Qatar one of the highest per-capita income countries, and one of the world's fastest growing. The World Factbook states that Qatar has the second-highest GDP per capita in the world, after Liechtenstein. Proved oil reserves of 15 billion barrels should enable continued output at current levels for 37 years. Qatar's proved reserves of natural gas are nearly 26 trillion cubic metres, about 14% of the world total and the third largest in the world.
Before the discovery of oil, the economy of the Qatari region focused on fishing and pearl hunting. After the introduction of the Japanese cultured pearl onto the world market in the 1920s and 1930s, Qatar's pearling industry crashed. However, the discovery of oil, beginning in the 1940s, completely transformed the state's economy. Now, the country has a high standard of living, with many social services offered to its citizens and all the amenities of any modern state. It relies heavily on foreign labour to grow its economy, to the extent that 94% of its labour is carried out by foreigners. Labour laws in Qatar have improved over recent years, and Qatar is now the only state in the GCC to allow labour unions.
Qatar’s national income primarily derives from oil and natural gas exports. The country has oil reserves of 15 billion barrels, while gas reserves in the giant North Field (which straddles the border with Iran and is almost as large as