‘Smart’ Dubai banks on blockchain

The Smart Dubai Office held a series of demo days to discuss the progress of 14 blockchain use cases being implemented by 12 government entities across the city. (Supplied)
Updated 17 August 2018
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‘Smart’ Dubai banks on blockchain

  • The Dubai Blockchain Strategy lays out how Dubai will use blockchain to improve government efficiency
  • Blockchain promises to mean no more forlorn trips between government buildings to get the necessary paperwork in order

DUBAI: Blockchain is a technology that is both feared and revered, its potential to rip up the old order — from currencies to law — making it both a threat and an opportunity to long-established industries and institutions.

For Dubai, blockchain offers the promise to become a truly global tech leader, as Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, director general of the Smart Dubai initiative, explained to Arab News.

The Dubai Blockchain Strategy, launched in 2016, lays out how Dubai will use blockchain to improve government efficiency, create an entire new industry based on distributed ledger technology and help other cities make similar advances.

Gulf bureaucracy has historically been a source of anguish for citizens and expats alike, the frustrations of obtaining the documentation required to gain access to state-sanctioned services and a local driving license becoming a right-of-passage among the recently arrived.

Such stereotypes are increasingly obsolete, however, as governments turn to technology to streamline processes. Having introduced numerous smart services, Dubai now aims by 2020 to become the first city where all government-related processes run on blockchain. Should Dubai succeed, 100 million documents annually will be transacted digitally, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 114 metric tons and saving 5.5 billion dirhams ($1.5 billion) in administrative costs each year.

 

Blockchain promises to mean no more forlorn trips between government buildings to get the necessary paperwork in order, freeing up 25.1 million hours annually that could be put to better use.

“We want to give people back their time, which is the most valuable thing in life,” said Bishr. “With the realization of the Dubai Blockchain Strategy we will move the role of government to providing happiness to people.”

As Dubai’s economy grew and diversified, the amount of paperwork required to regulate industry mushroomed.

“Simple processes were getting ever more complicated. It was becoming clear there needed to be a giant solution to streamline growth from government processes,” said Bishr. “Governments believed for centuries they were achieving their objectives by fulfilling these transactional roles, which were done through a heavy reliance on manual processes and unnecessary labor and paperwork.”

Government-run Smart Dubai is leading the emirate’s blockchain strategy. Last year, it identified over 20 government use cases for blockchain that have advanced to the proof-of-concept phase.

“Once these are successful, we will roll them out across the city. These cases include daily life experiences, such as leasing or renting property, registering a student in school, obtaining a medical license, and more,” said Bishr.

Smart Dubai believes blockchain can create thousands of private-sector business opportunities in myriad sectors including real estate, health care, transport, energy, retail and financial services. Globally, the blockchain technologies market will be worth $20 billion in 2024, up from $315 million in 2015, according to Transparency Market Research.

Dubai wants to create a homegrown blockchain industry, with this year’s second Smart Dubai Global Blockchain Challenge attracting more than 200 applications from around 85 cities that showcased their best blockchain solutions that can support Dubai in implementing its strategy.

The top 17 entrants were flown to Dubai to present their proposals at the Future Blockchain Summit. In all, this year’s applications covered 53 industries.

“The idea behind this challenge is to stimulate ideas and to support startups to implement their ideas, putting them on a platform where they meet other government entities who want to use blockchain,” said Bishr.

“Several startups who came here last year for the summit have now established their company here and are working with government entities to implement their blockchain solutions.”

Dubai is working with open-source blockchain platform Hyperledger, plus Consensys, which builds programs on the Ethereum blockchain for public and private sector organizations. Consensys, whose clients include GlaxoSmithKline, has opened its Middle East and North Africa headquarters in Dubai.

“We don’t want to be plugged into only one type of blockchain, so we don’t miss any important benefits of the others,” said Bishr. “We need to be an open city with an open standard that accepts any type of technology that will fulfil our needs.”

In May, IBM teamed up with three Dubai government institutions to launch the Dubai Blockchain Business Registry Project, which promises to simplify the process of setting up and operating a business, while Smart Dubai is in talks with IBM and Consensys about building a “plant farm” in the UAE that will host all Dubai’s blockchain applications, said Bishr.

Dubai Future Foundation, chaired by Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, launched the Global Blockchain Council in 2016. Today this has around nearly 50 members including du, Microsoft, Cisco, SAP and IBM.

Decoder

What is blockchain?

Feverish speculation in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin brought blockchain into the public eye last year, but what exactly is it and why is it engendering such global excitement? According to Hyperledger, blockchain is cryptography-enabled distributed database with no central authority and no point of trust. “With blockchains, people can establish who they are and then trade items like money, stocks and bonds, intellectual property, deeds, votes, loyalty points, and anything else that has value,” a Hyperledger report said.


China: Trump forces its hand, will retaliate against new US tariffs

Updated 18 September 2018
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China: Trump forces its hand, will retaliate against new US tariffs

  • The commerce ministry’s statement came hours after Trump said he was imposing 10 percent tariffs on about $200 billion worth of imports from China
  • The latest US duties spared smart watches from Apple and Fitbit and other consumer products such as baby car seats

BEIJING/WASHINGTON: China said on Tuesday that it has no choice but to retaliate against new US trade tariffs, raising the risk that President Donald Trump could soon impose duties on virtually all of the Chinese goods that America buys.
The commerce ministry’s statement came hours after Trump said he was imposing 10 percent tariffs on about $200 billion worth of imports from China, and threatened duties on about $267 billion more if China retaliated against the US action.
The brief statement gave no details on China’s plans, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing later that the US steps had brought “new uncertainty” to talks between the two countries.
“China has always emphasised that the only correct way to resolve the China-US trade issue is via talks and consultations held on an equal, sincere and mutually respectful basis. But at this time, everything the United States does does not give the impression of sincerity or goodwill,” he added.
Geng said he would not comment on “hypotheticals” such as what measures Beijing might consider apart from tariffs on US products, saying only that details would be released at the appropriate time.
Trump had warned on Monday that if China takes retaliatory action against US farmers or industries, “we will immediately pursue phase three, which is tariffs on approximately $267 billion of additional imports.”
The latest US duties spared smart watches from Apple and Fitbit and other consumer products such as baby car seats. But if the administration enacts the additional tariffs it would engulf all remaining US imports from China and Apple products like the iPhone and its competitors would not likely be spared.
Last month, China unveiled a proposed list of tariffs on $60 billion of US goods ranging from liquefied natural gas to certain types of aircraft — should Washington activate the tariffs on its $200 billion list.
China is reviewing plans to send a delegation to Washington for fresh talks in light of the US action, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday, citing a government source in Beijing.
Collection of tariffs on the long-anticipated US list will start on Sept. 24 but the rate will increase to 25 percent by the end of 2018, allowing US companies some time to adjust their supply chains to alternate countries.
So far, the United States has imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese products to pressure Beijing to reduce its huge bilateral trade surplus and make sweeping changes to its trade, technology transfer and high-tech industrial subsidy policies.
Beijing has retaliated in kind, but some analysts and American businesses are concerned it could resort to other measures such as pressuring US companies operating in China.
A senior Chinese securities market official said US trade actions will not work as China has ample fiscal and monetary policy tools to cope with the impact. The government already has been ramping up spending on infrastructure.
“President Trump is a hard-hitting businessman, and he tries to put pressure on China so he can get concessions from our negotiations. I think that kind of tactic is not going to work with China,” Fang Xinghai, vice chairman of China’s securities regulator, said at a conference in the port city of Tianjin.
FURTHER TALKS IN DOUBT
Trump’s latest escalation of tariffs on China comes after several rounds of talks yielded no progress. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week invited top Chinese officials to fresh discussions, but thus far nothing has been scheduled.
“We have been very clear about the type of changes that need to be made, and we have given China every opportunity to treat us more fairly,” Trump said in a statement. “But, so far, China has been unwilling to change its practices.”
Fang told the Tianjin forum that he hopes the two sides can sit down and talk, but added that the latest US move has “poisoned” the atmosphere.
A senior Trump administration official told reporters that the United States was open to further talks with Beijing, but offered no immediate details on when they may occur.
“This is not an effort to constrain China, but this is an effort to work with China and say, ‘It’s time you address these unfair trade practices that we’ve identified that others have identified and that have harmed the entire trading system,’” the official said.
So far, China has either imposed or proposed tariffs on $110 billion of US goods, representing most of its imports of American products.
“Tensions in the global economic system have manifested themselves in the US-China trade war, which is now seriously disrupting global supply chains,” the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement on Tuesday.
China’s yuan currency slipped against the dollar on Tuesday after news of the US measures. It has weakened by about 6.0 percent since mid-June, offsetting the 10 percent tariff rate by a considerable margin.
CONSUMER TECH TRIMMED
The US Trade Representative’s office eliminated 297 product categories from the latest proposed tariff list, along with some subsets of other categories.
But the adjustments did little to appease technology and retail groups who argued US consumers would feel the pain.
“President Trump’s decision...is reckless and will create lasting harm to communities across the country,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents major tech firms.
Kenneth Jarrett, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, said three quarters of its members will be hit by the tariffs, and they will not bring jobs back to the United States.
“Most of our member companies are ‘in China, for China’ — selling goods to Chinese companies and consumers, not to Americans — and thus ultimately boosting the US economy,” Jarrett said.