GCC can be a ‘latter-day Venice,’ says former UK government adviser

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Updated 30 January 2023

GCC can be a ‘latter-day Venice,’ says former UK government adviser

GCC can be a ‘latter-day Venice,’ says former UK government adviser
  • European trade policy expert Paul McGrade explains why now is the time for a GCC-UK free trade agreement
  • Domestic politics rules out UK-US FTA while India wrestles with divisions over protectionism and politics, he asserts
  • McGrade says British public feel Brexit was a mistake, bringing costs and “very, very few benefits”

DUBAI: The GCC bloc, with its strategic location and fast-growing economies, can be a latter-day Venice, balancing between East and West, according to Paul McGrade, a former UK government adviser and an expert on UK and European trade policy, who was speaking as the GCC and the UK prepare to launch the third round of their free trade talks.

He predicts that the UK’s attempts to forge free-trade agreements with the US and India will meet with failure, in contrast with an FTA deal with the GCC, which could work despite the two sides’ policy differences over China and Russia.

He also asserts, citing opinion surveys, that the British public now feel that “Brexit was a mistake and has brought costs and very, very few benefits.”

McGrade made the comments during an appearance on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs talk show that dives deep into regional headlines by speaking with leading policymakers and business leaders.

He discussed what a GCC-UK trade deal would entail, whether an agreement could materialize before the end of this year and, given the political upheaval of the last 12 months, whether GCC leaders could really trust the British government’s trade promises.



“The GCC region will still have strong links with China. Energy needs there are huge and growing. (But I hope) the region will continue to have strong links with the West,” he said.

“There’s a difficult balancing act that’s going to get harder in the decades ahead. But the region is very strongly placed and, you (can) already see with the UK, and Europe more broadly, a stronger recognition that this is a strategic partnership, or a set of strategic partnerships, that they can’t afford to ignore.”

Last month, the UK government said it was committed to signing a significant trade deal with the GCC. However, given the political roller-coaster ride that the UK went on in 2022 and the fact that it is no longer the manufacturing giant of the last century, many wonder why GCC countries should still be interested and whether they can trust that the UK will deliver.

“It’s a fair question after six years really of instability in the UK, a country that always prided itself and partly sold itself on its political stability and its business-friendly regulation. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster, but I think that the high tide of Brexit disruption has passed,” McGrade said.



He said although the Tory government and the main opposition Labour Party claim they are committed to making Brexit work, what they really mean is sound public finances, a more stable regulatory relationship with Europe, a more predictable one where essentially the UK will broadly follow what the EU is doing in big areas like net-zero.

“This gives investors some confidence,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“The UK is not going to be towing itself off into mid-Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. It’s going to be geographically, obviously and in regulatory terms, very firmly anchored in the European neighborhood. That gives a bit of confidence and a bit of stability going forward. And the UK needs investment, which has dropped off sharply since the 2016 vote.”

Paul McGrade, a former UK government adviser and an expert on UK and European trade policy, on Frankly Speaking, hosted by Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

As the West decouples from China, experts say it will need strong relationships with the Gulf states. McGrade believes the war in Ukraine has refocused minds on the importance of the strategic partnership with the Gulf countries. “Not just through the trade deal, which could help in some areas, but it’s a broader picture,” he said.

“There’s a huge opportunity here for Gulf states and their investors to kind of reshape this relationship in the sectors that they might want to draw into their own economies in terms of building sustainable, high-skilled models for the future.”

The Conservative government in the post-Brexit era had promised that Britain would be able to make trade deals all over the world. However, they missed their targets last year. The UK has only signed trade agreements with about 60 percent of their global trade partners and talks with the US and India have stalled.

“Some of those (trade) talks have stalled, but some of them probably weren’t very realistic anyway,” McGrade said. “The domestic politics on both sides of the Atlantic probably ruled out the kind of deep trade deal with the US that some Brexiteers said they wanted.”

As for India, he said the country does not “really have a modern ambitious free trade deal with (any entity). It is an economy that is wrestling with its own internal divisions over degrees of protecting its domestic industry. And there are politics at play on things like visas.”

He continued: “It’s a different picture when you look at the Arab world and especially the GCC, because there’s a very strong historic relationship. There are obviously difficult issues in any trade deal about market access, but the relationship is probably more positive and the politics less difficult around the content of that trade deal.”



Elaborating on the potential for cross-border investments, McGrade said: “A lot of the UK’s economic sectors are in a weak position. (But) some of the fundamentals are pretty strong in areas like health tech, digital health. We have got Arab Health Week, of course, and creative industries, net-zero technology, the traditional strengths and areas like banking, other professional services.

“These are sectors that matter to Gulf economies and may matter increasingly, as we look to kind of building a sustainable net-, post-net-zero economy. So, there’s a lot on offer in the UK and probably some of it is underpriced because of the economic hit that the country has taken over the last few years. This probably is a very good time to invest, whether or not we have a trade deal quickly. But this trade deal potentially is an easier one to do than, say, US or India in political terms.”

The Gulf states are strong strategically but the relationship with the UK will need to be two-way, experts say, with British innovation holding the promise of helping the former to become high-skilled, high-tech economies.

McGrade, for one, is confident that as the UK seeks to diversify its trade and investment relationships, the Gulf states would be important in providing access to new markets, energy sources and other areas.

“(They are) going to be vital, (when) you see a Europe cutting itself off from traditional Russian supplies of oil and gas, and is also recalibrating the relationship with China,” he said. “The US talks openly about decoupling from Chinese supply chains. The UK talks a similar kind of language. The UK is probably a bit closer to the US than some of the big European powers on this.

Paul McGrade, a former UK government adviser and an expert on UK and European trade policy, on Frankly Speaking, hosted by Katie Jensen.

“If that’s the kind of world that we’re going to, then the Gulf states become more important than ever, not just for energy, but for the markets that they represent, the investment and the partnerships that they’re looking to build.”

“Look at the scale of the ambition in the Gulf, not just for sort of investment for return, but for the huge long-term sustainability project that (Gulf) governments, sovereign wealth funds and other investors are aiming for. There’s a huge opportunity for genuine partnerships where some of those innovative technologies that the UK still excels at could be a part of building up that sustainable skills base in Gulf economies.”

The UK estimates that an FTA with the GCC would add about £1.6 billion ($1.98 billion) to its economy. So, where does McGrade see the most gains for countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE?

“A trade deal is nice to have, but it’s not essential. These are already quite open economies in global terms. They already have strong trading relationships with the UK. A trade deal could help reduce some of the barriers, but it’s not the biggest game in town,” he said.

“The broader picture is looking at the sectors where UK innovation in particular can help achieve the long-term strategic aims of countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If you look at some of the real strengths, in medical technology, health technology, digital health, we have a lot of innovation in the UK market, which is often underpinned by the fact that you have this almost unique data set because you have a huge national health service covering sort of 60 million people.”

McGrade believes the creative sector is another big source of the UK’s global strength, which can be important for areas like tourism and culture, in which some Gulf states have made a big investment. “There are areas like education that are traditional strengths and where there’s already a presence in the region from the UK,” he said.

“The professional services, banking and financial services is an obvious one. But we increasingly see legal and accounting services as well as sort of management consultancy establishing and growing their presences in the region.”

He next turned to what he called another big area, “which is the technology around net-zero, getting to net-zero, but helping make that sustainable and build economies that will be fast growing and rich, and high skilled beyond the dependence on hydrocarbons.”

Katie Jensen. (AN photo)

“There’s a lot there. Sovereign wealth funds in the region are already investing in some of these sectors. In some cases, what they’re looking for in a partnership is to bring some of those skills back home to the region so that they can be used to help build up the domestic high skills and high tech that will be needed (in the) longer term into the century to keep high-growing rich economies in the Gulf region.”

But what happens if the UK fails to sign a specific deal with the GCC as a whole? Does it then have the option to look at single individual trade deals with, say, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar?

McGrade says this has been happening in fact. “It’s been signing individual agreements across some sectors with some of the GCC members. That would continue,” he said.

“Whatever the governments do, those economic fundamentals ought to be attractive to Gulf investors, whether that’s at the state, kind of sovereign wealth fund level or kind of business level, because some of those strengths of the UK economy, innovation across several sectors, can really be part of the answer to what Gulf economies need to do and know they need to do to build sustainable, high-skilled, post-net-zero economies for the 21st century.”

As for the GCC countries’ less hawkish approach to Russia, McGrade does not see that as a hindrance to talks with the UK. “For two reasons,” he said. “There is a greater recognition of the strategic importance of the Gulf region, for the UK and for the West generally because of the war in Russia. Because of what that means for energy prices and long-term energy needs.

“The other point is that if the West is going to decouple from China, then it needs the Gulf. The Gulf states are well placed. They are in a strong position economically.”



To be sure, McGrade said, “the UK and Western governments generally always wrestle with some public opinion and campaigning groups at home on some of the values agenda. They always worry about if that can be squared off with the needs of the strategic relationship with the Gulf. That will continue to be an issue.”

Alluding to technical and political barriers to reaching a trade deal, he acknowledged that the two sides have different opinions on certain issues but said: “They are not showstoppers. The deal is doable. It’s probably more about political will in London. It would be a failure of political will if that deal isn’t done.”

McGrade was forthright about his opinions on British voters’ decision to leave the EU three years ago. “Pretty consistent polling over time suggests that an ever-growing number of the British public feel that Brexit was a mistake and has brought costs and very, very few benefits,” he said.



Nevertheless, he said, both the Conservative and Labour parties have concluded that they cannot revisit the trade deal in a fundamental way. “There is a review of the trade deal at the five-year point, which comes in 2025,” he said. “If Labour wins the election, they will want to improve the terms of the trade deal without changing its fundamental character.”

Quizzed about his personal opinion on Brexit’s costs — a weakened pound, higher inflation, trade and investment disruption, political uncertainty, loss of access to the EU single market — McGrade said it was clear that the downsides were huge and not just economic.

“The hit to Britain’s reputation for political stability, which is sort of the core of its soft power, has been in some ways even worse than the economic hit from loss of market access,” he said.


DP World in top 5 overseas investors since 2012

DP World in top 5 overseas investors since 2012
Updated 26 March 2023

DP World in top 5 overseas investors since 2012

DP World in top 5 overseas investors since 2012
  • Logistics company invested $320m in the last year

DUBAI: DP World has invested more than $10 billion in the global logistics sector since 2012, Emirates News Agency has reported. 

The figures make the UAE-based company one of the top five overseas investors during the time period, according to the most recent foreign direct investment data.

Despite the demand for logistics services slowing, along with the global economy, DP World invested $320 million in the last year. 

Other companies in the top five include Amazon, and Denmark’s AP Moller Maersk, making DP World the only company in the group not based in the US or Europe.

DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said: “The data shared by ‘FDI Intelligence’ demonstrates where we stand globally within the logistics sector, not only in the last year but consistently over the last 10 years.

“DP World’s companies touch people’s lives around the world every day. Sometimes it is tangible, and sometimes we are in the background, making sure people and businesses get the goods they require.

“Our infrastructure opens untapped trade opportunities, grows economies and makes goods more affordable.

“Investing in developing economies helps trade go further, facilitates economic growth, attracts foreign investment and generates thousands of jobs — raising the quality of life for everyone.”

According to a study in January commissioned by DP World and led by Economist Impact, 96 percent of companies are changing their supply chains as a result of geopolitical events.

One of DP World’s priorities in 2022 was to expand its partnerships in order to realize this trade potential.

It strengthened its partnership with India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund to raise about $300 million, and it established a new platform with British International Investment to accelerate work in Africa.

The African continent has been a key focus area, with the construction of the Port of Ndayane in Senegal marking the start of a $1 billion investment.

Plans are also in the works to expand the capabilities of operations at Caucedo in the Dominican Republic, while the Callao Port expansion in Peru, when completed later this year, will reportedly create one of the single largest terminals in South America.

Another popular investment destination has been the UK. DP World has invested £2 billion ($2.44 billion) in the UK over the last decade, supporting thousands of jobs, WAM reported.

Standard Chartered agrees to sell business in Jordan

Standard Chartered agrees to sell business in Jordan
Updated 26 March 2023

Standard Chartered agrees to sell business in Jordan

Standard Chartered agrees to sell business in Jordan
  • Bank said in April that it was seeking to narrow its focus to faster-growing markets in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

DUBAI: Standard Chartered plans to sell its Jordanian business to Arab Jordan Investment Bank (AJIB), the two parties said on Sunday, as the emerging markets-focused lender presses ahead with plans to exit seven markets in Africa and the Middle East.
The bank entered into an agreement with AJIB, subject to central bank approval, which will see Standard Chartered’s corporate, commercial and institutional banking, consumer lending and private banking businesses migrated to AJIB.
All Standard Chartered Bank employees in Jordan will be transferred to AJIB, it said an emailed statement.
Standard Chartered’s Africa and Middle East CEO Sunil Kaushal said the agreement is aligned with the banks global strategy “to deliver efficiencies, reduce complexity, as well as redirect resources within the Africa Middle East region to areas with the greatest potential to drive scale, grow and better support clients.”
AJIB said the purchase falls within the Jordanian lender’s strategy to grow its market share in the country, which continues to grow after it acquired HSBC’s banking business in Jordan in 2014 and National Bank of Kuwait’s banking business in Jordan in 2022.
Standard Chartered in April 2022 said it plans to leave seven markets, consisting of Angola, Cameroon, Gambia, Jordan, Lebanon, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
The bank said at the time it was seeking to exit markets where it is sub-scale and narrow its focus to faster-growing markets in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Closing bell: Saudi benchmark index continues upward movement on promising market conditions

Closing bell: Saudi benchmark index continues upward movement on promising market conditions
Updated 26 March 2023

Closing bell: Saudi benchmark index continues upward movement on promising market conditions

Closing bell: Saudi benchmark index continues upward movement on promising market conditions

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index continued its upward trajectory on Sunday as it went up by 12.97 points or 0.93 percent to close at 10,459.36. The promising market conditions resulted in a rise in investor confidence, pushing the market up.

The parallel market, Nomu, also rose by 174.79 points or 0.92 percent to close at 19,231.63, while the MSCI Tadawul 30 Index gained 0.02 percent to reach 1,423.63 on Sunday. Total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR4.05 billion ($1.08 billion).

On Thursday, during the first session of Ramadan month, the main index gained 95.88 points and closed at 10,446.39.

Arab Sea Information System Co. emerged as the top gainer, as its share prices went up by 9.96 percent to SR78.40 followed by Al Kathiri Holding Co. whose share prices surged by 9.88 percent to SR55.60.

Zain KSA which reported a net profit of SR550 million in 2022, saw its shares surge 9.83 percent to SR11.84.

Thimar Development Holding Co. was the worst performer, dropping 9.95 percent to SR43.45, followed by Al Sagr Cooperative Insurance Co. whose share prices went down by 6.08 percent to SR12.66.

Meanwhile, Horizon Food Co., affiliated with Tabuk Agriculture Development Co. began trading on Nomu on Sunday with an opening price of SR37 per share and closed the session at SR44.95, up 21.49 percent.

On Sunday, Amwaj International Co. announced its financial results for 2022. In a statement issued to Tadawul, the company revealed that it recorded a 2.7 percent rise in net profit to SR29.02 million in 2022, compared to SR28.26 million in the year-ago period.

Sure Global Tech Co. reported a net profit of SR24.07 million in 2022, up 33 percent from SR18.12 million in 2021. In a bourse statement, the company attributed the rise in profit to a 12 percent increase in revenues driven by the product segment, adequately supported by the expansion of the customer base.

Sure Global Tech Co. also added that net profit increased in 2022 due to the revenue growth in infrastructure, professional and digital services segments. Despite the rise in net profit, the company’s share prices fell by 1.67 percent to close at SR53.10.

Arabian Pipes Co., also known as APC turned profitable in 2022, as the company reported a net profit of SR8.9 million, versus a net loss of SR60.1 million in 2021. According to a bourse statement, the net profit of the company rose in 2022 due to an increase in sales which went up by 37 percent.

Driven by the rise in profits, the share prices of Arabian Pipes Co. went up by 9.52 percent to SR42.

Another company that reported its financial results on Sunday was Saudi Ground Services Co. In 2022, the company trimmed its net losses to SR244.48 million, compared to SR254.41 million in 2021. Even though the company performed well in 2022 compared to 2021, its share prices dropped by 4.76 percent to SR22.

Saudi REDF deposits over $246m in Sakani accounts for housing projects  

Saudi REDF deposits over $246m in Sakani accounts for housing projects  
Updated 26 March 2023

Saudi REDF deposits over $246m in Sakani accounts for housing projects  

Saudi REDF deposits over $246m in Sakani accounts for housing projects  

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Real Estate Development Fund deposited more than SR925 million ($246.2 million) in the accounts of Sakani beneficiaries in March 2023.  

The Sakani program was launched in 2017 by the REDF to facilitate homeownership in the Kingdom, by developing new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals and financing their purchase. 

The deposit, which also comes from the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and Housing and the REDF, is in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 which aims to increase the proportion of citizens who own a home to 70 percent.  

Mansour bin Madi, CEO of REDF, stated that the total amount deposited in the accounts of Sakani beneficiaries since the announcement of the transformation program in June 2017 until March 2023, exceeded SR46.2 billion.  

He also said that the total fund for the current month of March was allocated to support the profits of various housing contracts.  

Bin Madi explained that the fund launched the second phase of product governance and provided an electronic service that allows the beneficiaries with self-construction projects to update the stages of building their homes.  

This is to emphasize the importance of the beneficiaries' commitment to direct the stages of building their housing and follow up on the stages.  

He added this is to ensure that the fund supports and facilitates are provided to the beneficiaries during the time period specified in the financing contracts and housing support regulations. 

IMF says risks to financial stability have increased, calls for vigilance

IMF says risks to financial stability have increased, calls for vigilance
Updated 26 March 2023

IMF says risks to financial stability have increased, calls for vigilance

IMF says risks to financial stability have increased, calls for vigilance

RIYADH: International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Sunday that risks to financial stability have increased and called for continued vigilance although actions by advanced economies have calmed market stress.

Speaking during the first day of the China Development Forum, Georgieva noted that 2023 poses yet another challenging and thought-provoking year with an expected global growth rate slowing to below 3 percent.  

This is mainly attributed to the repercussion of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, as well as monetary tightening, the IMF chief explained.  

Even though progressive economies have attempted to compose market stress, the overall outlook for 2024 remains weak with the growth rate estimated to stand below the historic average of 3.8 percent, she pointed out.

"So, we continue to monitor developments closely and are assessing potential implications for the global economic outlook and global financial stability," Georgieva reassured. 

Moreover, when it comes to vulnerable and low-income countries with high levels of debt, she emphasized that the IMF is paying close attention to those in order to further support them.  

In addition to this, there is a risk of the world splitting into rival economic blocs, resulting in "a dangerous division that would leave everyone poorer and less secure," as a consequence of geo-economic fragmentation, Georgieva warned. 

That said, China has a significant role to play with regard to minimizing the risks of financial instability. It has been forecasted that every one percentage point boost in China’s gross domestic product results in a 0.3 percentage point rise in growth in other Asian economies, she said. 

Consequently, policymakers in China are urged to focus on further raising productivity while rebalancing the economy and shifting away from investment while moving towards more sturdy consumption-driven growth.

According to conjectures, such reforms are capable of lifting real GDP by as much as 2.5 percent by 2027, and by around 18 percent by 2037, explained. 

The China Development Forum is an annual high-level global conference held in China right after the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference each year. 

This year, the forum is taking place from March 25 up until March 27 under the theme “Economic Recovery: Opportunities and Cooperation.” 

The conference poses an opportunity for participants to connect with political, economic, and significant decision-makers in the Asian country.