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  • The Centre of Expertise on Trade,
    Investment and Public Policy

    Alistair Burt (R), then UK Minister for the Middle East, launched the programme in 2018.

    Driving engagement with the Middle East

    Published On: 3 April 2019

    Asia House recently launched a Middle East Programme to drive political, economic and commercial engagement between the Middle East, Asia and Europe. We speak to Cordelia Begbie, Middle East Programme Manager at Asia House, to find out more.

    What role do you see the Middle East playing in the future of trade?

    Each country in the Middle East has its own areas of development and opportunity. However, if we look at the broad trends, I think it is safe to say that the Middle East will be playing an increasingly important role in global trade. We can see the Gulf states gradually becoming more involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, for example. This was evident during the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s recent visits to China, Pakistan and India, as well as the Asian investment into developments such as Duqm Economic Zone in Oman.

    The Middle East’s strategic positioning and its favourable foreign investment incentives attract interest from both Asia and the West. What’s more, FDI is not just pouring into traditional energy and defence sectors, but in more diverse markets, which are starting to develop through state-backed initiatives such as the GCC member countries’ national and economic “visions”. These are important steps that are starting to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons.

    It sounds like a good time for Asia House to launch a Middle East programme. What are the programme’s main aims? 

    It’s very much about helping organisations better understand the Middle East and the wider trade landscape so that they can make informed decisions and spot opportunities more clearly.

    Over the last few years, we have seen dramatic changes taking place in the global trade order. The US-China trade tensions have created uncertainty and global growth is expected to slow. But at the same time there are notable growth opportunities emerging, especially in the Middle East. Increasing urbanisation and connectivity in the region means we are seeing the rise of a larger and more educated urban, digital middle class. But there are challenges too. While most Gulf nation economies are projected to grow in the coming years, low oil prices mean that there is an increasing need for the region to diversify their economies.

    All of this is complex and developments are not always easy to follow in a fast-moving region with major geopolitical and economic importance. The Asia House Middle East Programme brings clarity to these issues through our private briefings and events with key decision makers, through our advisory services and through our global network.

    Why should businesses engage with the Asia House Middle East Programme?

    Asia House has been at the centre of the global debate on trade, investment and public policy for more than two decades. This has placed us in a position to be able to provide our members with unique insights and intelligence from those who are the heart of decision making in both the public and private sectors.

    Organisations benefit from our team’s extensive knowledge of the Middle East and Asia, but also our wide network of contacts in government and industry across these regions. Our private briefings attract senior officials, government ministers, business leaders and analysts, who speak off-the-record on issues that matter to our Corporate Members, allowing for a free and frank discussion. Meanwhile, our overseas conferences focus on the most pressing themes in global trade, allowing us to position our members at the heart of the debate.

    Furthermore, our Advisory practice is well placed to provide corporates with bespoke products on issues that matter to them, such as analysis on individual markets or advice notes on specific challenges. We are able to support organisations’ activities, while also equipping them with the information they need to make informed decisions about operating in markets that may be unventured territory.

    What are the main areas that the Asia House Middle East Programme focuses on?

    Our Middle East Programme operates cross-sector and our country engagement is varied and bespoke to the needs of our members and clients. Over the last few months, our programme has focused on technology, infrastructure, energy and education. However, we are always expanding and tailoring our portfolio to allow for engagement with new corporates.  As we are a non-bilateral organisation, we do not focus only on connecting the Middle East to the UK, but instead look to connect the Middle East to Asia, Europe, or any countries in between.

    What have been the highlights of the Middle East Programme so far?

    The highlights of the Middle East Programme so far definitely have to include our major Dubai conference which we held in April 2018, where we had great engagement from UK and regional governments. It’s really exciting to return to Dubai in March 2019 for the Future of Trade conference with DMCC and to receive the continued support from governments and corporates across the trade, technology and energy sectors.

    Back in the UK, we have also hosted regional governments from the UAE and Saudi Arabia at Asia House, in London. In May 2018, the British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Simon Collis CMG, briefed our Corporate Members on the ambitious Vision 2030 programme and provided insight on UK-Saudi relations, as well as Saudi Arabia’s move away from oil. Earlier this year, we hosted a Saudi Education and Training delegation, led by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority which included representatives from the education sector in the country to provide analysis on investment opportunities in this market. UK events such as these, alongside our engagement with Britain-based businesses, have highlighted the Middle East as an important consideration in wider trade and investment issues, such as the BRI discussions – an area which is often overlooked.

    Aside from regional and UK events, we also produced original research on Middle Eastern trade with Asia in April 2018. Our report, ‘The Middle East’s Asian Pivot: Trade Growth and Opportunities’, analysed shifts in Middle Eastern trade since 2000 and identified a clear move in the balance of trade towards Asia, attracting media coverage in the Middle East and the UK.

    If you want to learn more about how the Asia House Middle East Programme can help your organisation, Cordelia would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach her at cordelia.begbie@asiahouse.co.uk

    This article is featured in the latest edition of Asia House Insights, exploring the Middle East’s role in global trade.