Davos is the Middle East’s time to shine, says WEF’s head of MENA Maroun Kairouz

Special With the World Economic Forum WEF returning to Davos, many are wondering what the Arab delegations will bring to the mix
Davos is playing host to this year’s WEF Annual Meeting under the theme ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World.’ (Manuel Lopez/World Economic Forum)
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Updated 17 January 2023

Davos is the Middle East’s time to shine, says WEF’s head of MENA Maroun Kairouz

With the World Economic Forum WEF returning to Davos, many are wondering what the Arab delegations will bring to the mix
  • Middle East and North Africa region has become a “centerpiece of global geopolitical efforts,” Kairouz tells Arab News
  • A record number of Arab heads of state are participating in this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

DAVOS: With the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting returning to the familiar snow-covered mountains of Davos, many are wondering what the Arab world’s delegations are going to bring to the mix.

“I think, in short, it is their time to shine,” Maroun Kairouz, WEF’s head of the Middle East and North Africa region, told Arab News.

“(This is) the culmination of years of efforts and commitment to reforms that we have seen in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Oman.

Maroun Kairouz, WEF head of the MENA region, says the Gulf is in a prime position as the ‘centerpiece’ of global geopolitical efforts. (Supplied)

“Now they are harvesting the fruits of seeds that were planted five, six, and, for some countries, 20 years ago, and that puts them in that position.”

This year’s summit follows the theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World” — a fitting one given the many overlapping crises now plaguing the globe.

Russia and Ukraine’s war is approaching its first anniversary with no signs of abating, contrib

uting to an ongoing inflationary crisis, which has placed a huge strain on households worldwide.

Delegates at the WEF Day One in Davos. (AN photo by Tarek Ali Ahmad)

Meanwhile, intensifying geopolitical and geoeconomic competition between world powers, particularly China and the US, is creating further uncertainty and reshaping the global power balance.

With a record number of Arab heads of state descending upon Davos for this year’s summit, it is clear that the region, thanks to its geopolitical and economic positioning, is a strong candidate to act as a mediator amid such crises.

“We have seen a return of the region as a centerpiece of global geopolitical efforts,” Kairouz told Arab News.

Notable examples of this over the course of the past year include US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom’s hosting of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the China-Arab Summit in December, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in mediating a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

“It’s a bit of a dose of realism to say, even if you have interests elsewhere, that this region is key to global stability, it’s key to energy stability and to economic stability across the world,” said Kairouz.

“I think many countries have come to that realization given the events of the past year.”

The Middle East is important when it comes to investments, with sovereign wealth funds that are investing all over the world, says Borge Brende,
WEF President

Borge Brende, the president of WEF, also highlighted the importance of the Arab world at the opening of this year’s meeting. “We have six heads of states and governments, and very strong delegations,” he told a press conference.

“The Middle East is also important when it comes to investments, with sovereign wealth funds that are investing all over the world,” he added.

Although Kairouz praised Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar for their recent progress on the economic and diplomatic fronts, he urged them not to take their foot off the accelerator of reform.

Police officers stand guard at the entrance of the Congress centre in the alpine resort of Davos, on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on January 16, 2023. (AFP)

“The hope now is that high energy prices, and let me say, a more favorable fiscal environment, does not lead to a relaxation of momentum around reforms to further consolidate that position and further advance on that path of prosperity and economic importance,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s economic importance is evident through the scale and strength of its growth rate. The Kingdom is set to overtake India as the fastest-growing major economy in 2023, driven by the gains of higher energy prices.

According to official data released by India’s Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Saudi Arabia is expected to outpace India with 7.6 percent gross domestic product growth.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council has been one of the strongest subregions in terms of economic growth,” said Kairouz.

“For 2022, Saudi Arabia was one of the fastest-growing large countries with around 8 percent of economic growth. Keep in mind, the S&P is down 20 percent over the last year,” he added, referring to the US stock market index that tracks 500 publicly traded domestic companies.

“If we have a replay of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, which investors have deep patient pools of capital? It’s again the sovereign wealth funds of the Arab world. They played a key role back then to stabilize global markets and to provide liquidity.”

A photograph shows a general view of the alpine resort of Davos, on the opening day of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 16, 2023. (AFP)

With this in mind, Kairouz predicts that if the world does enter a recession, the Gulf countries will “again be front and center in those efforts.”

According to WEF’s own research, two-thirds of chief economists expect a global recession will occur this year, given continued geopolitical tensions and further monetary belt-tightening in the US and Europe.

“With two-thirds of chief economists expecting a worldwide recession in 2023, the global economy is in a precarious position,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director of WEF, told a press conference ahead of the meeting.

“The current high inflation, low growth, high debt and high fragmentation environment reduces incentives for the investments needed to get back to growth and raise living standards for the world’s most vulnerable.”

More than 2,700 world leaders and diplomats will take part in this year’s WEF meeting, with a strong representation from all the key regions of the world.

However, Arab delegations who are absent from this year’s summit include the crisis-wracked nations of Lebanon and Yemen. Kairouz says both governments were urged to attend but to no avail.

“We have extended invitations to their governments, and we had at one point positive momentum,” he said.

“But unfortunately, internal dynamics have prevented them from being represented. You know, Lebanon, for example, now has a presidential vacuum, and it’s difficult for ministers or the prime minister to travel under these circumstances.”

Lebanon has been mired in its worst-ever financial crisis since late 2019. Despite the unprecedented crisis, which has thrown millions into poverty, its politicians continue to squabble, leaving the appointment of a new president in deadlock since October last year.

Arab participation in WEF and other such summits has an added urgency as the common threat of man-made climate change leads to evermore extreme weather events and environmental damage across the Middle East region.

“By 2050, we could lose 14 percent of the region’s GDP because of water issues,” said Kairouz. “If there is no action being taken very quickly, this region is one of the ones that will suffer the most because of climate change.”

However, with climate conference COP27 having taken place in Egypt last November, and with COP28 hosted by the UAE later this year, Kairouz says there is “a great opportunity to already set the stage for 2035 for the region to become a leader and pioneer.”

He added: “We have all the tools that we need — the financial tools and the expertise in terms of managing big projects — to really become a global leader in climate action.”

In addition, the Davos meeting will feature its highest-ever business participation, with more than 1,500 private sector leaders registered across 700 organizations, including more than 600 of the world’s top CEOs from WEF Partners.

Over 125 experts and heads of the world’s leading universities, research institutions and think tanks will also join the meeting.

According to organizers, the WEF meeting will also be climate-neutral for the sixth consecutive year.

Brazil president’s Saudi visit shows desire for stronger ties

Brazil president’s Saudi visit shows desire for stronger ties
Updated 30 November 2023

Brazil president’s Saudi visit shows desire for stronger ties

Brazil president’s Saudi visit shows desire for stronger ties
  • Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Riyadh this week with delegation of ministers, businesspeople
  • ‘Brazil has a great opportunity to play the role of a strategic partner of Saudi Arabia,’ says head of Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce

SAO PAULO: The visit of Brazil’s president to Riyadh on Nov. 28-29 with a delegation of ministers and businesspeople showed that he wants to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia and is counting on its participation in projects, especially those involving green energy.

After an event that gathered Brazilian and Saudi authorities and business leaders on Wednesday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva invited the Kingdom to be “Brazil’s partners” in the energy transition that has been taking place in the South American nation.

“If Saudi Arabia is the most important country in the production of oil and gas, in 10 years from now Brazil will be called ‘the Saudi Arabia of green energy’,” Lula said in his speech.

Mining and Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira presented in the same meeting an overview of Brazil’s energy endeavors, and initiatives in which Saudi investors can take part.

The previous day, he met with Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman and signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at improving cooperation between the two nations.

The MoU encompasses projects in various fields, including oil and gas, electricity, energy efficiency, petrochemicals, hydrogen, renewable energy and the circular carbon economy. The agreement also comprises academic partnerships for joint research involving energy.

“We are in Saudi Arabia demonstrating Brazilian leadership in the energy transition and seeking to further expand our relationship with the country,” Silveira said, adding that one of the visit’s goals was to attract investors.

The Saudi government had already announced in 2019, during former President Jair Bolsonaro’s tenure, a plan to invest $10 billion from its sovereign fund in Brazilian projects. Many of them are expected to be related to green energy and infrastructure.

“Brazil has great growth potential in all segments of renewable energies. Solar energy, wind power and biomass energy already make up a significant part of the Brazilian total energy production, but they can reach a much higher level,” Jose Roberto Simoes Moreira, an engineering professor who coordinates the University of Sao Paulo’s renewable energy program, told Arab News.

In 2022, almost half of Brazilian energy came from renewable sources. Solar and wind power were responsible for 90 percent of the expansion in energy production in 2023.

“Those energy sources were responsible for keeping the system safe and functional. We’ve been operating near the limit. Without the expansion in renewable energy, Brazilians would have problems,” Simoes Moreira said.

Especially in the northeast of the country, where most solar and wind plants have been implemented over the past few years, there is still room for new projects on land. Many entrepreneurs have already developed plans for offshore wind plants.

“They’re more expensive and present additional implementation challenges, but in Europe they’ve been numerous. In Brazil, that’s only the beginning,” Simoes Moreira said.

Enhancing the Brazilian energy system also requires the expansion of its energy distribution infrastructure.

The largest consumer market is in the southeast, which is far from the energy units in the northeast, said Simoes Moreira.

“It’s necessary to also invest in the expansion of transmission lines. The current ones are on the verge of full operation,” he added.

Osmar Chohfi, who heads the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, said one of the sectors in which many joint projects can be carried out by Saudi Arabia and Brazil is green hydrogen.

“Brazil has a great opportunity to play the role of a strategic partner of Saudi Arabia. But in order for that to happen, it’s necessary to come up with well-conceived projects led by companies with high-quality governance and with a safe regulations system,” he said in a statement.

Chohfi recalled that Saudi Arabia has the goal of becoming a carbon-free country by 2060, so it has been investing heavily in the development of new energies.

The largest green hydrogen plant in the world, which is being constructed in the Red Sea, is part of that effort.

“In Brazil, Saudi investors can not only take part in projects involving renewable energies, but also in initiatives connected to carbon credits in order to compensate emissions during the transition process,” Chohfi said.

Regarding oil and gas, Simoes Moreira said Brazil still has great potential not only in energy production, but also in the petrochemical industry.

Besides energy, other MoUs were signed between Embraer, a leading aircraft manufacturer in Brazil, and the Saudi government, Saudi Arabian Military Industries, and Saudi airline Flynas.

The Brazilian delegation also discussed infrastructure projects with its Saudi counterparts. Ports and Airports Minister Silvio Costa Filho presented to business leaders opportunities concerning Brazilian ports, which may be partially privatized.

Lula has been looking for funds for his Growth Acceleration Program, a comprehensive public works initiative that will encompass several kinds of public works in the next few years.

Measures to enhance bilateral trade were also discussed between Lula and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2022, commerce between Brazil and Saudi Arabia reached $8.221 billion. Brazil bought mainly hydrocarbons and fertilizers ($5.297 billion), while the Kingdom mostly bought halal protein ($2.924 billion). The two leaders believe that trade could reach $20 billion by 2030.

Saudi Aramco sets LPG contract prices for December

Saudi Aramco sets LPG contract prices for December
Updated 30 November 2023

Saudi Aramco sets LPG contract prices for December

Saudi Aramco sets LPG contract prices for December

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., also known as Saudi Aramco, kept the official selling prices for liquefied petroleum gas in December unchanged from the previous month, according to an official statement.

Aramco’s December OSP for propane is $610 per ton, while price for butane has been set at $620 per ton.

Propane and butane are types of LPG with different boiling points.

LPG is mainly used as a fuel for cars, heating and as a feedstock for other petrochemicals.

Aramco’s OSPs for LPG are used as a reference for contracts to supply the product from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region.

Saudi Arabia extends 1 million bpd voluntary cuts until Q1 2024

Saudi Arabia extends 1 million bpd voluntary cuts until Q1 2024
Updated 30 November 2023

Saudi Arabia extends 1 million bpd voluntary cuts until Q1 2024

Saudi Arabia extends 1 million bpd voluntary cuts until Q1 2024

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday decided to extend its voluntary crude output cuts of 1 million barrels per day until the end of the first quarter of 2024 in coordination with some OPEC+ members, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported quoting an official source from the Ministry of Energy.

It is the continuation of the Kingdom’s decision made in July, it added.

Following the latest decision, Saudi Arabia’s crude production will remain at approximately 9 million bpd until the end of March 2024. The report added that after the first quarter “in order to support market stability, these additional cuts” will be returned gradually subject to market conditions.

The source also noted that this voluntary cut is in addition to the voluntary cut of 500,000 bpd announced by the Kingdom in April 2023, which extends until the end of December 2024.

The source confirmed that these additional voluntary cuts seek to reinforce the efforts made by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and their allies, known as OPEC+, to support the stability and balance of oil markets.

Russia also said on Thursday it would deepen its voluntary oil production cut to 500,000 bpd and extend it until the end of the first quarter of 2024.

The extra cuts are intended to “maintain stability and balance in the oil market,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in a statement following a meeting of OPEC+ ministers held in Vienna.

Kuwait followed suit by announcing voluntary cuts of 135,000 bpd for three months starting Jan. 1, Kuwait’s state news agency KUNA said on Thursday citing the country’s oil minister.

Kuwait’s oil production will be 2.413 million bpd to the end of March 2024, said Saad Al-Barrak. He said the cut was on top of a 128,000 bpd voluntary cut announced in April, KUNA said.

These announcements came after the OPEC+ members met in an online meeting about global oil production. The OPEC+ ministers set quotas for Angola, Congo and Nigeria after they postponed their meeting originally set for Sunday by four days. There was no immediate word on reductions from other member countries.

Brazil invited

Brazil hopes to join the OPEC+ in January after a technical analysis of the charter for cooperation, the country’s energy minister said on Thursday, reported Reuters.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s office confirmed receiving the invite during his trip to Saudi Arabia, but said he had not formally responded.

The president’s office and the Mines and Energy Ministry did not say whether Brazil would participate as an OPEC+ observer or as a full participant in the group’s shared production quotas.

Mines and Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira told his OPEC+ peers that Brazil was eager to formally enter the group at a future meeting in Vienna, after a technical review of its charter for cooperation.

“It’s all set. But there is a phase of detailed analysis by our technical team of the document we just received, which is part of the protocol in Brazil,” Silveira said in Portuguese during a virtual meeting, where his comments were met with a standing ovation from OPEC+ ministers.

In a statement OPEC+ said it welcomed Silveira to the meeting, adding that Brazil “will join the OPEC+ Charter of Cooperation starting January 2024.”

Saudi Arabia Railways, Al-Jabr enter 4-year vehicle transport deal 

Saudi Arabia Railways, Al-Jabr enter 4-year vehicle transport deal 
Updated 30 November 2023

Saudi Arabia Railways, Al-Jabr enter 4-year vehicle transport deal 

Saudi Arabia Railways, Al-Jabr enter 4-year vehicle transport deal 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia Railways and Al-Jabr Automotive have collaborated to transport thousands of vehicles annually by train from King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam, aiming to boost operational efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize damage and carbon emissions.  

The four-year contract plays a significant role in enhancing the efficiency of operational processes, cutting expenses, and minimizing the incidence of damage related to the transportation and handling of new cars. 

Furthermore, it serves to alleviate pressure on the port, as reported by the Saudi Press Agency.  

The contract marks a pioneering milestone in the Kingdom, aligning with SAR’s strategic initiative to broaden the scope of transportation services.  

This endeavor aims to cater to diverse customer segments, showcasing the national railway company’s commitment to innovation in the sector.  

The deal also underscores SAR’s steadfast commitment to providing sustainable solutions in the transport and logistics sector. Aligned with the National Strategy for Transport and Logistics, SAR aims to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2030, in harmony with the Kingdom’s environmental initiatives. 

Looking forward to outreaching new customers to achieve a tangible impact on the environment and society, Bashar bin Khalid Al-Malik CEO of SAR pointed out that the agreement represents a milestone moment towards achieving the strategic vision of a comprehensive transformation within the transport and logistics sector. 

He said: “We are taking a significant step through this agreement. Not only we are expanding and diversifying the services provided to our customers but also offering logistical transport solutions that contribute to reducing carbon emissions and enhancing traffic safety levels,” he said. 

He further emphasized that the recent collaboration underscores their complete dedication to realizing sustainability goals and offering transportation solutions that consider the future of the nation and succeeding generations. 

According to its website, Al-Jabr Automotive occupies a leading position in the Saudi automobile market, having 28 showrooms and 38 fully-fledged service centers across the Kingdom.  

The company offers a wide spectrum of new and used KIA Motors cars as well as quality after-sales services. It boasts a large distribution network covering major regions in Saudi Arabia.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rises to close at 11,177 

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rises to close at 11,177 
Updated 30 November 2023

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rises to close at 11,177 

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rises to close at 11,177 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Thursday, gaining 74.43 points, or 0.67 percent, to close at 11,177.48. 

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR7.40 billion ($1.97 billion) as 124 of the listed stocks advanced, while 91 retreated.  

Similarly, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu also rose 153.56 points, or 0.61 percent, to close at 25,235.62. This comes as 22 of the listed stocks advanced, while as much as 30 retreated. 

The MSCI Tadawul Index saw a gain of 11.82 points, or 0.83 percent, to close at 1,442.03. 

The best-performing stock of the day was Maharah Human Resources Co. The company’s share price surged 6.31 percent to SR64. 

Other top performers included Al-Rajhi Company for Cooperative Insurance as well as Electrical Industries Co., whose share prices soared by 5.69 percent and 5.04 percent, to stand at SR171 and SR2.50 respectively. 

Other leading performers included Naseej International Trading Co. and Gulf Insurance Group. 

The worst performer was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co., whose share price dropped by 6.67 percent to SR0.14. 

Other poor performers were Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries and Medical Appliances Corp. as well as Jadwa REIT Saudi Fund, whose share prices dropped by 3.61 percent and 3.44 percent to stand at SR36.05 and SR12.36, respectively. 

Moreover, Development Works Food Co. and National Medical Care Co. also performed badly. 

On the announcements front, Saudi Cable Co. announced its annual financial results for the period ending on Dec. 31 2022. 

According to a Tadawul statement, the firm’s net profits reached SR584 million in 2022, reflecting a 201.93 percent drop when compared to 2021. 

The decline in net profits is mainly attributed to a liquidity issue that the firm was facing as a result of judicial enforcement orders filed against it by creditors and lenders. 

Consequently, during the period, the company was unable to use its bank accounts and could not execute and produce on hand orders that obtained from the market. 

On another note, on behalf of MBC Group, HSBC Saudi Arabia in its capacity as lead manager, announced the offering price range at SR23 to SR25 per share as well as the commencement of the institutional book-building period. 

A bourse filing revealed that the offering comprised the issuance of 33.25 million ordinary shares for public subscription, representing 10 percent of MBC’s share capital. 

Meanwhile, ​​Lumi Rental Co. announced that it has received a purchase order from The Royal Commission for AlUla to provide vehicle rental services based on the existing contract between the two firms. 

According to a Tadawul statement, the value of the purchase order is SR41.82 million and includes providing rental services for 264 vehicles by the company to RCU.