Until recently the words “Middle East” simply called to mind a source of mineral energy resources and lengthy history, but recently the region has become a powerhouse of innovative technologies, as well as both a source and destination for investment funds.
The fast-growing and forward-looking region has a great deal to offer investors and traders, especially in green energy and digital transformation, representatives of several regional governments told business leaders at the Belt and Road Summit last week.
Speaking at a seminar in the recent Belt and Road Summit, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), Hang Lung Properties Chairman Ronnie Chan said: “Historically the world has viewed the Middle East as a site of conflict, but the situation is very different today. Now the Middle East is one of the most stable regions in the world.”
Following oil finds in the middle of the 20th century, the region has been a massive energy exporter. The reaction to the global shift towards renewable energy and electric vehicles has been to fast-track green energy development.
Speaking at the same seminar, Ahmed Obaid Yousef Al Qaseer CEO, Sharjah Investment Development Authority said: “The United Arab Emirates is putting great emphasis on green technology. In Sharjah, we are concentrating on advanced manufacturing with green technology. Agro-technology is also important, we are boosting wheat production. Everyone is welcome in the UAE, which is safe and stable.”
Speaking at the Summit’s first Policy Dialogue, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy , said the country wanted to turn itself from a linear into a circular economy, continually recycling resources. One scheme the UAE was working on was “fry to fly”, where an industrial plant took used cooking oil from restaurants and transformed it into aviation fuel.
Aviation and tourism were both critical industries for UAE, a characteristic it shared with Hong Kong, with each accounting for 14% of GDP, and it was vital to ensure both industries became sustainable.
Summit delegates also pointed to the extensive investment Hong Kong and Mainland China firms were making in the Middle East and vice versa, with may investment geared towards digitisation and technological transformation.
Fahd bin Abdulmohsan Al-Rasheed, Advisor in the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia, said the entire kingdom was focused on the Vision 2030 project, an ambitious project to create a vibrant society and prosperous nation.
The innovative city of NEOM, a technology-focused smart-city metropolis being built from scratch, stretching inland from the Red Sea coast in the northwest of the country, was a key part of the vision.
He pointed out that the Middle East and Saudi Arabia had a lot to contribute to the Belt and Road. The Red Sea, which runs along the Kingdom’s west coast, carried 30% of the world’s shipping.
As digitisation moves into all industries, including traditional ones, such as appliances and vehicles, Middle Eastern countries are increasing investment in manufacturing and agriculture, deploying the latest technologies.
Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Egypt, said: “Egypt and Mainland China have cooperated on trade infrastructure for a long time. The mainland has invested extensively in port and industrial-park infrastructure in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, including in manufacturing and technology projects.”
She said the world was undergoing a fundamental overhaul in sustainable infrastructure and the global value chain, with developments in such areas as bunkering and logistics.
Echoing the optimistic, forward-looking views delegates expressed, Mr Chan pointed out that the Middle East was unique along the entire Belt and Road – it was part of both the maritime belt, and the terrestrial road, making it an attractive venue for trade and investment.