Davos Diary: Central Lounge — the networking hub of the universe

All roads lead to the Central Lounge of the Congress Hall at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos. (AP Photo)
Updated 25 January 2019
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Davos Diary: Central Lounge — the networking hub of the universe

  • My daily tactic has been to get on the shuttle from Klosters for the 20-minute trip to Davos, head straight to the Congress Hall, and shack up in the Central Lounge
  • As long as you can keep hold of your table and seat for the day, you have a ringside location for the best flesh-pressing in the world

DAVOS: I am penning these lines from the networking epicenter of the universe, the veritable “ground zero” of schmoozing — the Central Lounge of the Congress Hall at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

Although some of the bigger beasts of the annual jamboree in the snow have stayed away this year — we all miss you, Donald and Vladimir — you would not know it from the stellar crowd in this venue. Virtually everyone who is anyone in the world of business, politics and media is here.

It is a journalist’s dream. My daily tactic has been to get on the shuttle from Klosters for the 20-minute trip to Davos as early as possible, head straight to the Congress Hall, and shack up in the Central Lounge.

As long as you can keep hold of your table and seat for the day, which is not always possible given the appetite for space here, you have a ringside location for the best flesh-pressing in the world.

For some reason, the Middle East contingent loves the Central Lounge, so you can hear the familiar sounds of Arabic and watch the chance encounters, the planned bilaterals and the (sometimes) awkward confrontations that take place when Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris and Egyptians are enclosed in a small space.

From time to time, the really big hitters pass through on their way to one of the upstairs meeting rooms. These people, such as head of state Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and global superstars including Tony Blair, bring in their train the full entourage — bodyguards, advisers and attendant media — and leave a virtual shock wave in their wake. Questions from journalists are invariably declined with a tight-lipped shake of the head.

But others are far more chatty. The rules of the Central Lounge are clear: It is Chatham House, off the record, deep background only, unless you manage to get the agreement of person with whom you are chatting to use something they said for publication. In my experience, that happens rarely.

But perhaps that is a good thing, because it puts these celebrities at their ease, and they open up in a way they never would if there was a camera or a tape-recorder in front of them.

The encounters come faster than an Alpine avalanche. Sometimes you’re talking to one eminent business leader, and you see over their shoulder another, even more interesting, personality. The etiquette is that you fake an urgent phone call and head off to the new attraction.

In the space of 30 minutes this morning, I had fascinating conversations with Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai real estate group Damac, followed by Jose Silva, the relatively new CEO of Dubai’s luxury hotels group Jumeirah. Then came Essa Kazim, governor of the Dubai International Financial Center.

Around and in between these fascinating encounters, there was a clutch of Saudi ministers, the Kingdom’s award-winning film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, the leading historian of the oil industry Daniel Yergin, and many financial “masters of the universe,” as well as a veritable constellation of glamorous media people.

Davos is famed for the quality of its night-time networking — which will be the subject of a subsequent diary — but for daylight schmoozing, leave me in the Central Lounge.
 

Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


US poised to end waivers for 5 countries importing Iranian oil

Updated 46 min 56 sec ago
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US poised to end waivers for 5 countries importing Iranian oil

  • Japan, South Korea, Turkey, China and India were exempted from sanctions until May 2
  • Since November, Italy, Greece and Taiwan have stopped importing oil from Iran

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is poised to tell five nations, including allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey, that they will no longer be exempt from US sanctions if they continue to import oil from Iran, officials said Sunday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to announce on Monday that the administration will not renew sanctions waivers for the five countries when they expire on May 2, three US officials said. The others are China and India.
It was not immediately clear if any of the five would be given additional time to wind down their purchases or if they would be subject to US sanctions on May 3 if they do not immediately halt imports of Iranian oil.
The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Pompeo’s announcement.
The decision not to extend the waivers, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was finalized on Friday by President Donald Trump, according to the officials. They said it is intended to further ramp up pressure on Iran by strangling the revenue it gets from oil exports.
The administration granted eight oil sanctions waivers when it re-imposed sanctions on Iran after Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. They were granted in part to give those countries more time to find alternate energy sources but also to prevent a shock to global oil markets from the sudden removal of Iranian crude.
US officials now say they do not expect any significant reduction in the supply of oil given production increases by other countries, including the US itself and Saudi Arabia.
Since November, three of the eight — Italy, Greece and Taiwan — have stopped importing oil from Iran. The other five, however, have not, and have lobbied for their waivers to be extended.
NATO ally Turkey has made perhaps the most public case for an extension, with senior officials telling their US counterparts that Iranian oil is critical to meeting their country’s energy needs. They have also made the case that as a neighbor of Iran, Turkey cannot be expected to completely close its economy to Iranian goods.