WTO boss stands up for global trade against populist tide

Roberto Azavedo, director general of the World Trade Organization
Updated 13 February 2018
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WTO boss stands up for global trade against populist tide

DUBAI: Roberto Azavedo, director general of the World Trade Organization, mounted a staunch defense of his organization, which has come under attack from rising anti-globalist and populist sentiment in the US and Britain.

“The world does not have a future if the WTO does not have a future. It is the platform on which all global trading agreements are made,” he told a session on “the outlook for trade in a hyper-connected world” at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

The WTO, the 164-member organization which oversees trade issues and tries to arbitrate in disputes, has come under pressure from the anti-global philosophies of the Trump administration in the US, and from the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union — “Brexit”.

President Trump has pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to withdraw from the North America Free Trade Association (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

On NAFTA, Azavedo said: “I think it will change. There are three parties to an agreement that has been in place for 20 years, and that will require updating. What one partner sees as progress another sees as backtracking.”

He agreed that withdrawal from NAFTA would be a “job killer” in the US and would lead to higher prices.

Trump has complained that the WTO machinery is too slow and that the organization is not modern enough. “We are not slow. We are actually very fast compared with other international adjudicating bodies,” Azavedo said.

“In negotiations, we are 164 members and they have to agree. So that takes time. It would be good to be more flexible and nimble in negotiations,” he added.

On Brexit, he said the current standoff between the UK and the EU showed the need for an organization such as the WTO. “Imagine Brexit without the WTO. What would happen? Without an agreement it would be a no man’s land, completely chaotic and unpredictable.”

Azavedo said there was a large group of people in the world who feel they’ve been left out of the modern world, that their governments are doing nothing for them, and that globalization is not for them.

But he denied that globalization was responsible for the loss of jobs in traditional sectors, claiming that 80 percent of jobs lost in the world were because of new technology, not because of globalization.

“This will only accelerate. For example, when automated vehicles really come — and that’s a when rather than an if — millions of truck drivers will be out of a job, as will all the service staff — petrol stations, roadside motels — who service them.”

On big trends in trade, he said that the logistics industry was going through a change that would have big repercussions. “Fintech and Blockchain is going to blow up logistics. We are moving from the era of the container to the era of the small package.”


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”