Saudi Arabia, UAE poised to launch digital currency

Although there is much skepticism around bitcoin, the underlying blockchain technology is viewed as a groundbreaking system. (Reuters)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Saudi Arabia, UAE poised to launch digital currency

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and the UAE are working on the launch of a digital currency that could be used for transactions between the region’s banks by using blockchain, the technology that underpins bitcoin.
Citing UAE Central Bank Gov. Mubarak Al-Mansouri, Reuters reported on Wednesday that UAE and KSA banks would issue a digital currency that would be accepted in cross-border transactions between the two countries.
In a speech to a regional financial conference, Al-Mansouri explained that blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions, maintained by a network of computers on the Internet rather than by a central authority.
Although there is official skepticism around bitcoin, blockchain is viewed as a groundbreaking system with huge potential for saving time and costs for businesses and financial services.
Arab News recently reported that banks around the world were looking to create digital versions of their currencies. Unlike bitcoin, these digital currencies would be backed by the monetary authorities and could one day replace cash.
James Bernard, development director of the Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC), told Arab News that a clear distinction should be made between blockchain, which offers huge potential, and cryptocurrencies that have faced hacking issues and massive swings in value. “Bitcoin is dependent on blockchain, but the blockchain technology is independent of bitcoin,” Bernard said.
The KSA and UAE central banks have in the past expressed skepticism about bitcoin, with the UAE Central Bank saying it did not recognize it as an official currency.
In July, the Saudi central bank warned against trading bitcoin because it was outside the bank’s regulatory reach.
On Wednesday, however, Al-Mansouri said the central banks wanted to understand blockchain technology better. He told reporters that the UAE-Saudi digital currency would be used among banks, not by individual consumers, and would make transactions more efficient.
“It is digitization of what we do already between central banks and banks,” he said.
At a panel discussion on banking and blockchain during November’s Global Financial Forum — hosted by the Dubai International Financial Center — speakers agreed that blockchain was in its early stages and had many years before going mainstream, but all agreed the potential was massive.
Leanne Kemp, CEO of Everledger, told the forum that banks could benefit from the immutable track-and-trace application of blockchain, which helps enhance trust and security.
Brian Behlendorf, executive director at Hyperledger, explained that there are two different types of blockchain: Permissioned and permission-less, with the latter used by bitcoin.
Behlendorf said he believed the potential benefits of the permissioned blockchain makes it attractive to financial institutions and other enterprises.
At the end of 2016, the Royal Mint of the UK announced plans to launch a digital gold product called Royal Mint Gold (RMG), a joint venture with US exchange, CME. A spokesman told Arab News earlier the system is now “up and running” and the Royal Mint is “in advanced discussions to sign up a number of corporate users.”
“By using distributed ledger technology, we can make it more cost-effective and provide increased transparency for traders and investors to trade, execute and settle gold,” said the Royal Mint.
A decade ago, the UAE and Saudi Arabia discussed the possibility of creating a single currency among members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council but the UAE pulled out of the project in 2009.
However, diplomatic and economic ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been strengthening this year, and last week the UAE said it planned to establish a bilateral committee with Saudi Arabia on economic, political and military issues.
 


Israel’s tech sector faces challenge from shortage of workers

Updated 16 December 2018
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Israel’s tech sector faces challenge from shortage of workers

  • The sector accounts for about 45 percent of Israel’s exports
  • Arabs account for only 3 percent of tech workers but this is expected to change soon as 18 percent of all computer science students today are Arab

TEL AVIV: Israel is struggling to recruit enough workers to its technology sector, a report showed on Sunday, creating a challenge for an industry seen as the country’s main potential driver of economic growth over the next decade.
Start-Up Nation Central, which published the report with the Israel Innovation Authority, said that while the number of high-tech workers in Israel had grown over the past five years, their percentage of the labor force remained unchanged.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the required growth will not be possible if the country’s supply of tech workers is inadequate,” said Eugene Kandel, head of Start-Up Nation Central
“Tech companies are struggling to find tech professionals, with many already finding (them) overseas.”
The number of tech workers — who earn more than double the average wage — grew to 280,000 in 2017 from 240,000 in 2013 but represent only 8 percent of the workforce, down from nearly 10 percent in 2008.
This is surprising given that investment into high-tech has soared, with venture capital funding exceeding $5 billion in 2017 and closing in on $6.5 billion this year. The number of multinationals operating development centers in Israel jumped to nearly 350 in 2016 from around 50 in 2000.
The sector accounts for about 45 percent of Israel’s exports. But about 15,300 positions remain open.
To find workers, Israeli companies are opening development centers overseas, mainly in Ukraine but also in the United States, Russia and India. Several dozen firms have also taken advantage of a rapid process established by the government in 2018 to obtain special visas for foreign tech workers.
But in the long term more initiatives are needed to increase the pool of workers, Kandel told reporters. There is great potential among women, who represent only 23 percent of tech workers, as well the largely untapped Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors.
Arabs account for only 3 percent of tech workers but this is expected to change soon as 18 percent of all computer science students today are Arab, similar to their share of the population.
One obstacle for their employment in high-tech is that they live far from the country’s center.
Aharon Aharon, head of the government’s Innovation Authority, said he would launch two plans in the first quarter of 2019 — one to provide incentives in building an innovation ecosystem in the periphery and another to encourage tech companies to open branches outside of the center.