KUALA LUMPUR: Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah today granted an audience to Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who is also the Foreign Minister, at Istana Negara, here.

Comptroller of the Royal Household for Istana Negara Datuk Seri Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said it was the first audience by Sheikh Mohammed, who is in Malaysia on an official visit to Asia.

He said during the 30-minute audience, Al-Sultan Abdullah and Sheikh Mohammed discussed, among others, the close bilateral relations between Malaysia and Qatar which was established since 1974.

"The two leaders also touched on efforts to strengthen trade and economy between the two countries to a higher level, including on a proposal to enhance ties to a level of strategic partnership in the future," he said in a statement.

He said Al-Sultan Abdullah also expressed the hope for more companies from Qatar to continue to invest and expand their business in Malaysia, including in real estate development.

"His Majesty also expressed Malaysia's willingness to work with Qatar in dealing with post COVID-19 pandemic. It includes cooperation in the development of vaccines, anti-viral drugs and the sharing of experience, research and expertise," he said.

Ahmad Fadil said in 2021, Qatar was Malaysia's sixth largest trading partner and export destination ,as well as import among the West Asian countries.

Despite the economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysia's total trade with Qatar in the same year increased by 24.4 percent to USD634.2 million, he said.

"Total export to Qatar increased by 31.9 percent to USD359.0 million, while total imports from Qatar increased by 15.8 percent to USD275.1 million," he added.

Also present during the audience were Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah, Foreign Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Amran Mohamed Zin and Qatar's Ambassador to Malaysia Fahad bin Mohammed Kafoud.

During the meeting, Ahmad Fadil said Sheikh Mohammed also conveyed the Qatari Government's invitation for Al-Sultan Abdullah to watch the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which Qatar is the host, scheduled from Nov 20 to Dec 18 in Doha.

"His Majesty was a member of the Executive Committee of the International Football Federation (FIFA) from 2015 to 2019," he said, adding that Qatar is the first Muslim country and the first Middle Eastern country to be chosen to host the FIFA World Cup.

Sheikh Mohammed's official visit to Malaysia served as a follow-up to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob's official visit to Qatar last March, as well as a lead-up preparation for the state visit by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to Malaysia in 2023.

Sheikh Mohammed is also scheduled to pay a courtesy call on Ismail Sabri and he will also hold a separate meeting with Senior Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.