Mohamed Elmandjra, Chief Executive Officer,Meditel, Morocco, expressed his fears about mounting protectionism in a world jolted by crisis and despair.‘The world’s leading trading powers should resist the tendency towards protectionism.We need free markets to shape this post-crisis world.The Arab economies will do very well in a world routed in free and fair trade.’ ‘We are glad to be involved with the Arab world – that’s where things happen right now,’ said Bertrand Collomb, Honorary Chairman, Lafarge, France.
Given the mixed success of foreign firms’ operations in the Middle East, we have to ‘rethink strategies to boost success in the Middle East,’ opined Sirajuddin Qureshi, Managing Director, Hind Group, India.
Mishaal A. Al-Orayer, President, Meda Industrial Group, Saudi Arabia, pointed to the importance of implementing good governance and reviving economies without reliance on protectionism. The longer the recovery takes, the greater the threat of spill-over effects and even worse consequences.
A panel called ‘A New World Order’ tried to shed light on social and security implications of the economic crisis: is the crisis adding to security challenges? Is economic security a major dimension of security threats? How to deal with the potential rise of intolerance? The panel was chaired by Lakshmi Pratury, Founder and President, Ixoraa Media, India.
She stressed that the economic crisis has had an important impact on society and is affecting development policies as well as foreign and security policies. In this respect, as Babak Namazi, Partner,Atieh Group of Companies, Iran,stated, the crisis is ‘indirectly driving changes in the international arena, whereby the developed countries of the West will find it difficult to retain their traditional roles.’ Ikram ul-Majeed Sehgal, Chairman, Pathfinder Group, Pakistan declared that ‘we currently witness the making of a new world order – with the Arab world and other emerging markets at the core.’
The Arab world has been fuelling growth of developing and developed economies through its natural and abundant energy resources. Sami Said Alangari, President, Algihaz Group, Saudi Arabia examined how the Arab countries and its partners can address political, economic and environmental challenges. Natural resources have a strategic facet for the Arab world, giving them a political and security dimension.‘As populations grow, the challenge to manage natural resources is increasing,’ stressed Jens Yahya Zimmermann, Managing Partner, New Silk Road Capital, UAE. Ramesh Ramachandran, Chief Executive Officer, MEGlobal International, UAE, added that our focus should be on how best to use the natural resources revenues to transform Arab economies while also thinking about the future generations.
In a discussion on renewable energy, Per Olofsson, Group Chief Executive Officer, ClimateWell, Sweden said that many European countries are interested in boosting investment in the Arab world because of a common interest in renewable energy. Desertec for example is a concept for making use of solar energy and wind energy in the deserts in North Africa and Middle East.
The Desertec consortium, which includes some of the biggest names in European energy, finance and manufacturing, aims to see ‘Europe fuelled by solar energy within a decade,’ hoped Andreas Schweitzer, Managing Director, Investissements Mistral, Switzerland. Some gulf countries are taking the lead in similarly ambitious projects – Masdar City in the UAE for example is a new city in the neighbourhood of Abu Dhabi powered entirely by renewable energy.
‘Masdar is a multi-billion-dollar project to promote Abu Dhabi as a hub for alternative energy and sustainability,’ explained Heinz Krier, Chairman, Fraunhofer-Masdar, UAE.
‘Unilateral campaigns to reduce the effects of climate change will no longer do to tackle the impending challenges.A global approach is required,’ Pankaj Dhingra, President and Chief Executive Officer,Nanostellar,USA, told the debate. Still, alternative energy that could replace oil in the future is still far away. ‘It is going to be a gradual process and will not happen overnight,’ Kamram Jamali, Chief Executive Officer, Petro Jam, Iran, concluded.
Demographics will transform Arab societies in the next two decades.‘Unemployment must be addressed. Education is the key – it is the solution to unemployment and all other challenges in Arab,’ pinpointed Michel Fattal, Managing Director, Khalil Fattal & Fils, Lebanon. 65% of the Arab world’s population is under the age of 30, placing enormous strains on health and education.
The region must develop this bulge by ‘providing them with high-standard education,’ said Abdulrahman Alharthi, CEO and Managing Director, Mena Financial Group, UAE.‘Leaders in the region need a clear vision of how societies will evolve in the future so that the right steps can be taken,’ added Saeb Nahas, Chairman, Nahas Enterprises Group, Syria.
Participants put forward proposals to increase youth exchange programs and improve the quality of teaching in the Arab world.
The discussions at the Global Arab Business Meeting ranged broadly, from trade generally to the importance of logistics in trade and how increasingly well-prepared the Arab world is to be a hub for tourism, air travel and education.The current state of the supply-chain industry in the Arab world was examined in one of the boardroom dialogue sessions.
Stefan Mecha, Managing Director, Volkswagen Middle East, UAE reported that ‘business leaders and governments in the Gulf region have paid considerable attention to improving logistics over the past years – places like Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar and Muscat developed into hubs for not only the region but the world.’
Massimo Migliuolo,Vice President, GTM Emerging Markets, Cisco, USA, said that many governments in the region pledged to provide both ‘hardware’ physical infrastructure and ‘software’ streamlined regulations and reduced fees to help businesses in general and the logistics industry in particular thrive.
The region’s free trade zones are continuing to attract investors from world over. Mark Khayat, Director, UPS International, emphasized the need for a long-term public commitment to the region’s infrastructure development; the adoption of a mindset that embraces trade as an opportunity; and the imperative for Arab firms to create global supply chains.
Praful Talera, Chief Executive Officer, Dynamic Logistics, India spoke about the Gulf region’s connectivity, availability of skilled labour and the relatively affordable cost as main factors that contributed to the region’s emergence as a major hub for the supply chain of many companies from the Subcontinent.
A major theme of the Global Arab Business Meeting was globalization and how Arab companies can benefit from the ongoing global shift from the West to the East.‘Arab companies are emerging as global corporations, reaching a level playing field with the established Multinationals of the West,’ said Marwan Lutfi, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, DIFC Authority, UAE.
The investments of Arab companies into Europe and North America is yet another facet of the globalized economy.The emergence of region’s Sovereign Wealth
Funds symbolizes the movement of once peripheral players into the centre of the political and economic system,’ observed Fernando Freire, Member of the Board, Aman Bank – BES Group, Libya. Chiara Corazza, Managing Director, Greater Paris Investment Agency, France reviewed the competitive advantages host countries can offer potential investors from the Arab world.
‘Cities like Paris could play a role as European hub for Arab businesses – facilitating global investments,’ she said.