Foreign Direct Investment: Scaling New Heights
July 6, 2023 | London
The GCC region is rapidly emerging as a powerhouse for investment and economic growth, transforming the region into a magnet for international capital. We gathered influential industry leaders to discuss the investment opportunities it presents, the role of regional integration in shaping future Gulf economies, and how this can unlock its potential for global growth and innovation.
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- HE Eng Said Al Mawali, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, Sultanate of Oman
- Aiman Bin Ahmed Al Hosni, CEO, Oman Airports Group
- Hashil Al Mahrouqi, CEO, OMRAN Group
- Haitham Al Salmi, CEO, Muscat Stock Exchange
- Ravi Bhatia, Director & Lead Analyst, Sovereign & International Public Finance Ratings, S&P Global Ratings
- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles KCMG LVO, Group Head of Public Affairs, HSBC Holdings plc
- Oscar de Bok, CEO, DHL Supply Chain
- Lord Gerry Grimstone of Boscobel Kt, Former Minister for Investment United Kingdom
- Marloes Knippenberg, CEO, Kerten Hospitality
- Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Chairman, Heritage Group & Co-Chairman, A&K Travel Group
- Saif Malik, CEO UK & Regional Head of Client Coverage, UK & Europe, Standard Chartered
- Matteo Mancini, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company
- Inma Martinez, Digital Pioneer & A.I. Scientist, Chair of the Expert Group, Global Partnership on AI (GPAI)
- Abdulrahman Nasser, Chief Commercial Officer, Oman Air
- Lisa Quest, Partner, Market Head for UK&I, & European Head of the Public Sector Practice, Oliver Wyman
- Julia Simpson, President & CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council
- Helmut von Struve, CEO, Siemens Middle East
- Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Global Counsel
- Duncan Chater, Managing Director, Europe, Bloomberg Media
- Mallika Kapur, Deputy Global Editor, Bloomberg Live Experiences
- Mark Miller, Global Editor, Bloomberg Live Experiences
Oman Sponsor Spotlight: Your Gateway to Global Trade
“Oman’s location is still valid today,” says His Excellency Eng. Said Al Mawali, Minister of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, Sultanate of Oman. For fifty years, the country has been heavily dependent on the exploration, production and value chain of oil and gas. Its vision for 2040 is to work hard on diversification, specifically; logistics, fisheries, manufacturing and goods, and the development of mining.
It also has a target for total carbon neutrality by 2050. This is supported with a host of incentives, including zero tax on buying and importing electric vehicles, and investment in charging stations. The overarching theme, explains Al Mawali, is to “go green and help the rest of the world to go green.” For now, the focus is to “play our role because of the location, to sweat these assets, and to ensure that it brings fair, just and good jobs to the country.”
Shaping the Future Through FDI: Outlook and Potential for the Gulf Region
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles KCMG LVO, Group Head of Public Affairs, HSBC Holdings plc, spoke enthusiastically about the GCC’s role as a connector between the East and West, revealing that his bank makes more money in the Gulf than it does in China, which is a “measure of the importance of this region.”
“We’ve seen a significant amount of volatility over the last few years on the oil side,” said Ravi Bhatia, Director & Lead Analyst, Sovereign & International Public Finance Ratings, S&P Global Ratings. He believes that the strategic location of Oman is important to the proximity of fast-growing markets, like India and Africa. He also acknowledges the large social liberalisation programme taking place in Saudi Arabia at the moment.
On the matter of food security, Helmut von Struve, CEO, Siemens Middle East, has been using technology to deploy one of the biggest vertical farms in the world. Working with Emirates Flight Catering and Crop One, they produced a million kilograms of salad in a year and also saved 95% of water compared to traditional agriculture. Lisa Quest, Partner, Market Head for UK&I, & European Head of the Public Sector Practice, Oliver Wyman, believes that the country is taking a “global leading position” on both food and pharmaceutical security.
“The big asset for the gulf is a young, highly educated population,” explains Cowper-Coles, adding that women in the region are educated and “major contributors to economic growth.”
He suggests there’s an economic and social revolution underway already.
Quest believes that the literacy of the world needs to improve, to better understand the stability and diversification that the region has to offer. Bhatia sees an opportunity for the oil industry to massively reduce carbon emissions per barrel, as the world moves to renewables.
What Lies Ahead for Global Trade
The global impact of uncertainties, such as rising energy prices and food prices, is affecting everyone, says Saif Malik, CEO UK & Regional Head of Client Coverage, UK & Europe, Standard Chartered. However, the necessity to respond to a challenging environment has seen the GCC take the lead in many areas, from food production to gaming, notes Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Global Counsel.
On the matter of free trade agreements and recent protests, Lord Gerry Grimstone of Boscobel kt, Former Minister for Investment UK, expresses the need for “universal standards – and it’s good that we talk about that openly.”
The Chinese no longer see the GCC and its neighbouring countries simply as a source of energy, reflects Wegg-Prosser. Instead, it’s viewed as a source of innovation, ideas and a wide range of different business uses.
Our Connected Future: The Next Era of Logistics & Supply Chains
Clients no longer ‘place their bets’ on any one single source when it comes to supply chain, explains Oscar de Bok, CEO, DHL Supply Chain. He also recognises an urge towards “more of a digital supply chain”.
A discovery during the pandemic was that the majority of ports were analogue and unable to predict e-commerce orders, shares Inma Martinez, Digital Pioneer & AI Scientist, Chair of the Expert Group, Global Partnership on AI (GPAI). However, AI is now creating inroads, serving the big change in manufacturing. “Artificial intelligence has superpowers and the biggest one is optimisation.” She also believes the region can be a ‘test bed’ of what AI can do to make everything more agile without having to fire people.
Discussing the risks coming into the region, Matteo Mancini, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company, feels that the pace of change requires a fairly mature ecosystem – plus there’s a shortage of human capital with 10 million people needed. There are also challenges for the green agenda, with “not enough green material in the world”.
Destination Gulf: The Transformational Power of Tourism
“People want authenticity, and the Middle East provides that,” states Julia Simpson, President & CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council. The region is growing faster than a lot of countries in the world, two of the main contributors are; visa access, and it being a safe and secure place to visit. Julia adds that sustainable aviation fuel is the fastest way for airlines to decarbonise, but it’s not within the airline’s control – it’s down to the energy producers, big oil producers and governments.
If you want to build ESG, it’s not about just saying the words – you have to do the things you believe in, says Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Chairman, Heritage Group & Chairman, A&K Travel Group. He impassionedly adds that you must preserve nature if you want to sell it.
In terms of travel and tourism, there’s a lot of labour in the market – the challenge is how to train it, explores Simpson. One example is Saudi Arabia, which is doing a great job opening up colleges.
Oman Sponsor Spotlight: Sustainable Travel and Tourism
Oman has invested more than $3 billion in the infrastructure of airports. It has state-of-the-art buildings, seven airports invested by the government, and amazing hotels, explains Aiman Al Hosni, CEO, Oman Airports Group. He also revealed that as part of its five-year plan, the worldwide rankings of Muscat Airport went from 97th place to its current 12th position.
Oman is a year-round destination with a vast coastline and great connectivity, allowing you to reach two-thirds of the globe within eight hours, reveals Hashil Al Mahrouqi, CEO, OMRAN Group.
Looking back at history, the wealth and prosperity of nations have been driven by trade routes, shares Abdul Rahman Nasser, Chief Commercial Officer, Oman Air. Today, Oman Air is creating ‘air routes’ which are ‘modern-day trade routes’, operating to 50 destinations and major hubs worldwide.
There are no high-rise buildings in Oman, which distinguishes it from other countries in the region, concludes Nasser. “The days of people going to high-rise hotels to sit on a beach then go to the mall in the afternoon is over.” Instead, he proposes that people want experiences, and to feel ‘at one with the world’ – all of which Oman offers.
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