China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.
China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.
It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.
All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band-aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.
That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord.
The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of the multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.
China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.
Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.
China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.
Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.
The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of the burden.
Potentially, Mr Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture
DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Aramco aims to announce the start of its initial public offering (IPO) on Nov. 3, three people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, after delaying the deal earlier this month to give advisers time to secure cornerstone investors.
The people also said Aramco’s chief executive officer, Amin Nasser, was not present at the conference on Tuesday as he was meeting investors abroad ahead of the offering.
Aramco is looking to float a 1% to 2% stake on the kingdom’s Tadawul market, in what would be one of the largest ever public offerings, worth upwards of $20 billion.
Aramco, in response to queries by Reuters, said on Tuesday the oil company “does not comment on rumour or speculation. The company continues to engage with the shareholders on IPO readiness activities. The company is ready and timing will depend on market conditions and be at a time of the shareholders’ choosing.”
The people declined to be identified due to commercial sensitivities.
The company will soon have more shareholders from institutions, the head of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, Yassir al-Rumayyan, said.
Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and chairman of Aramco’s board of directors, was speaking at a panel at the conference in Riyadh.
Aramco will start subscription for investors in its initial public offering on Dec. 4, Saudi-owned news channel Al-Arabiya said in a news flash on Tuesday citing sources.
The oil giant plans to announce the transaction’s price on Nov. 17, it added. The company will begin trading on the local stock market, the Tadawul, on Dec. 11, the broadcaster reported.
The prospect of Aramco selling a piece of itself has had Wall Street on tenterhooks since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first flagged it three years ago.
However, his desired $2 trillion valuation has always been questioned by some financiers and industry experts, who note that countries have been accelerating efforts to shift away from fossil fuels to curb global warming, putting oil prices under pressure and undermining producers’ equity value.
Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), is working on a consortium of investors for Aramco’s IPO, its chief executive said.
“There are several Russian pensions funds who are interested to invest in the Aramco IPO and we have also received indications from our Russia-China fund of some Chinese major institutions also interested in Aramco IPO,” Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) head Kirill Dmitriev told reporters on Tuesday.
Separately, Aramco has not approached the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) to invest in the IPO, the sovereign wealth fund’s managing director Farouk Bastaki said on Tuesday.
“KIA has not been approached by Aramco or its advisers for the IPO, and KIA will look at the IPO like any other investment,” Bastaki told reporters on the sidelines of an investment conference in Riyadh.
Reporting by Hadeel Al Sayegh in Dubai, Davide Barbuscia and Saeed Azhar in Riyadh; Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, and Asma AlSharif in Dubai; editing by Giles Elgood and Jason Neely
The unrest is, in turn, contributing to slower growth in the Middle East and North Africa region, alongside global trade tensions, oil price volatility and a disorderly Brexit process.
DUBAI: Unemployment and sluggish economic growth are fuelling social tension and popular protests in several Arab countries, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.
The unrest is, in turn, contributing to slower growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, alongside global trade tensions, oil price volatility and a disorderly Brexit process, the IMF said in a report on the regional economic outlook.
Earlier this month it lowered the 2019 forecast for the region — taking in the Arab nations and Iran — to a meagre 0.1 per cent from 1.1 per cent last year.
The IMF slashed its outlook for the region’s three largest economies — Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
The risks around the forecast of earlier this month “are skewed to the downside and are highly dependent on global factors,” the IMF said in its report on Monday.
“The level of growth that countries in the region are having is below what is needed to address unemployment,” said Jihad Azour, the IMF’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia.
“We are in a region where the rate of unemployment at the youth level exceeds 25-30 per cent and this requires growth to be higher by 1-2 per cent” in order to make a dent in joblessness, Azour told AFP in an interview.
The IMF report said that high unemployment was worsening social tensions in Arab countries.
“Unemployment averages 11 per cent throughout the region versus seven per cent across other emerging market and developing economies,” it said.
“Women and young people are particularly likely to be out of work, with more than 18 per cent of women…without jobs in 2018.” Violent protests have broken out in several Arab countries since early 2010 and turned into bloody civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
A new wave of demonstrations erupted over the last year in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, typically demanding economic reforms and action against corruption.
In Lebanon, where protesters have brought the country to a standstill with demands for a full overhaul of the political system, the economy grew at a very slow pace over the past few years, Azour noted.
“The government has to act firmly and swiftly in order to address those imbalances, bring confidence back by addressing the fiscal situation, and lower expenditure,” he said.
The IMF also said that public debt levels were very high in many Arab countries — exceeding 85 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average, with rates of more than 150 per cent in Lebanon and Sudan.
“Having built over many years, the cost of public debt burdens has become sizeable, preventing investments critical to the region’s long-term economic future,” it said.
The IMF said that Iran, which is subject to crippling US sanctions, has entered a steep economic recession and faces a battle against spiralling inflationary pressures.
The Islamic republic’s economy is projected to contract by 9.5 per cent this year after posting negative growth of 4.8 per cent in 2018.
Iranian authorities must align “the exchange rate close to the market rate and also reform the financial sector…and try to address some of the implications of the high level of inflation,” Azour said.
As a result of the sanctions, Tehran is believed to be exporting only around 500,000 barrels per day of crude, down from over two million bpd before the sanctions.
The IMF said that oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, led by Saudi Arabia, are expected to grow by just 0.7 per cent this year from 2.0 per cent in 2018 due to lower oil prices and output.
“GCC economies need to diversify and grow out of oil and this requires them to accelerate the reforms that have been started in the last four to five years,” Azour said. Stay up to date on all the latest World news with The New Indian Express App. Download now (Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit ‘Click to Subscribe’. Follow the instructions after that.)
The political impasse in which Algeria has been mired for more than seven months would result in a sharp economic slowdown in the short term. This Algeria’s Political deadlock and economic breakdown that the World Bank forecasters have reached is by any means comprehensive but could be read as some sort of alert.
The institution expects non-hydrocarbon sectors, as well as all oil and gas-related activity, to run through an air hole this year; which should have some unavoidable consequences on the country’s GDP growth. In effect, in similar way to other developing countries, it is expected to come down to 1.3% in 2019 from 1.5% the previous year.
“Uncertainty policy is expected to lead to a slowdown in the non-hydrocarbon sector in 2019,” reads a World Bank report released last Thursday. The Bretton Woods institution has not failed to highlight the impact of the arrests of business leaders on investment morality grounds or lack of these, and more generally, on the economy. “Business leaders from various sectors were arrested in connection with corruption investigations, which has disrupted the economy due to sudden changes in the direction and supervision of these companies, as well as uncertainty over investment,” the same report said. Since the beginning of the crisis, a wave of arrests affected the business community, public institutions, banks and social bodies alike. This blocking situation had worsened over the weeks; appropriation sets did not meet, officials at the level of economic administration were careful not to take the slightest risk. That is to say how violent the shock wave was. The impact on the economy could be disastrous as the situation continues to worsen by the day. As such, the World Bank (WB) estimates that “the pre-election period also risks further delaying the fiscal consolidation process scheduled for 2019, increasing the budget deficit to 12.1% of GDP and increasing the risk of a more abrupt adjustment in the future.” For the WB, widening budget and current account deficits is almost inevitable. While the fiscal deficit would be unlikely to be reduced internally, “on the external front, the current account deficit is expected to widen to 8.1% of GDP, mainly due to a significantly larger trade deficit.”
Investment is being impacted
“As the course of political events is expected to have an impact on economic activity, it is also expected that more resources will be allocated to social measures, to the detriment of public investment spending,” the Bank predicts. The report, stating that “private sector activity and investment will be affected by political disruptions and an unfavourable business climate, as well as disruptions caused by delays in payment of workers in several industries.” This is the case, since the draft Finance Bill 2020 foresees a sharp decline in capital expenditure, to the tune of 20.1%, while operating expenses and social transfers are maintained as they are. WB experts are merely saying out loud what Algerian economists and operators are thinking, warning of a situation that could go along if solutions to the political impasse run out. “The delays at the end of the political impasse and political uncertainty could further damage the country’s economy, leading to increased imports and further dwindling foreign exchange reserves,” concludes the WB report. Moreover, macroeconomic indicators are unlikely to improve at any time under current political conditions.
Economic growth to only 1.9% in 2020
Moreover, against a background of falling capital spending and low morale among investors, the growth of the Algerian economy would be only 1.9% in the year 2020. A stagnation is due in particular to the “slow” growth of the hydrocarbons sector, combined with the contraction in economic activity, which has limited growth in non-hydrocarbon sectors, according to the WB’s economic monitoring report released on Thursday. “Growth in the hydrocarbon sector has been slow, with economic activity contracting by 6.5% and 7.7% in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, respectively, partially off-sparing the effects of the slight increase in non-core growth 3.4% and 3.9% in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, respectively,” the WB noted. The tiny increase in investment in the first half of the year (4.9%) was driven by public investment in construction, public works and hydraulics, as a result of the expansion of social housing programmes, the WB said. Furthermore, the institution believes that “the recent discovery of a new gas field suggests a rebound in gas production and exports, but only in the medium term, and if and only if the framework for investment in hydrocarbons lends it to it.” The World Bank is merely bringing water to the government’s mill, which has called the enactment of the new hydrocarbon law urgent.
According to the world banking institutions, it would require some $5.47 bn in investments for MENA economies’ advancement as elaborated on the ESI of July 23, 2019. There are related Economic and Governance Risks as everybody knows but it remains as solvable as anywhere else in the world.
The World Bank responded to strong demand from the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) during the financial year that ended on 30 June 2019, with $5.47 billion in new commitments to invest in people, expand the private sector, and set a course for digital transformation.
Along with the financial commitments, the Bank delivered a wide range of analytical products in support of development goals of MENA countries.
In addition, there were $67 million in new committed grants for the West Bank and Gaza during the past financial year.
The World Bank’s knowledge services included support for the region’s high-income countries through its Reimbursable Advisory Services. The programme, which reached $56 million during the past financial year, supported efforts to diversify economies and promote private sector development, along with supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in anticipation of their upcoming G20 chairmanship.
“While the region has stabilised following the dual economic and social shocks caused by collapsing global commodity prices and a wave of social unrest, many countries have yet to enact the deep structural reforms necessary to achieve economic transformation that yields sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice-President for MENA.
Belhaj added: “These reforms are ever more urgent if the region is to seize the opportunity that its rapidly growing, highly educated and tech savvy young population represents. We have been working with governments to unlock this immense potential, channelling our support towards efforts to transform the region’s economies and embrace digital technology as a path to growth and opportunities.”
New strategy for the MENA region
In March of this year, the World Bank Group launched an enlarged strategy for the MENA region.
It provides a new and positive vision for the future of MENA with a focus on investments in human capital, leveraging the benefits of digital technology, and mobilising private financing for development while remaining committed to addressing the root causes of instability and responding to immediate needs.
All eyes will be on the region as Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency of the G20, Egypt chairs the African Union, and Morocco hosts the Annual Meetings in Marrakech in 2021.
Over the past financial year, the Bank worked with countries in the region to seize this momentum, turn these new priorities into reality, and project the region on to the global development stage, with a set of concrete goals to be achieved by 2021, in time for the Annual Meetings.
These efforts included a number of major financing programmes. In Jordan, a $1.45 billion financing package was launched to support the country’s plans to improve its business and investment environment and improve fiscal sustainability.
In Egypt, a $1 billion programme was launched to help sustain the momentum of Egypt’s reform program and capitalise on improvements to macroeconomic stability.
The programme helped launch the next generation of reforms focused on creating opportunities for Egyptians and raising living standards by promoting the private sector and improving government performance.
In Morocco, a $700 million programme was launched in support of the government’s efforts to leverage digital technologies to transform the country’s economy into a more inclusive and innovative driver of growth.
In Yemen, the Bank launched a new country engagement strategy and committed $540 million during the financial year to maintain the provision of services and support economic opportunities, bringing the Bank’s active portfolio to over $1.7 billion.
The World Bank also continued its support to Syrian refugees and the communities hosting them in Jordan and Lebanon through projects with the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a multi-donor vehicle which has leveraged over $2.5 billion in MDB financing to date.
The Bank also delivered a range of analytical products to support evidence-based policies and hosted regional knowledge-sharing events to promote coordinated approaches to the region’s development challenges.
“In line with the goals of the World Bank Group’s historic capital increase announced last year, our programs have focused on scaling up support to meet the aspirations of people in MENA by focusing on the opportunities that digitisation, entrepreneurship and innovation and greater regional coordination can bring,” said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Director of Strategy and Operations for the Middle East and North Africa.
Saudi Gazette posted an article dated July 9, 2019, on MENA start-up ecosystem on the rise, explaining that it is all “positive news for the continually growing ecosystem with strong growth through a record number of transactions.”
DUBAI — Total funding across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-based start-ups was up 66% from H1 2018, MAGNiTT, the region’s most powerful startup platform, said in its H1 2019 MENA Venture Investment Report, which provides an in-depth analysis of start-up funding and venture capital across the Middle East and North Africa.
The report highlights positive news for the continually growing ecosystem with strong growth through a record number of transactions.
Philip Bahoshy, MAGNiTT’s founder, said “the MENA region is hitting its inflection point. The acceleration of funding we saw in the latter half of 2018 has continued into 2019.”
Bahoshy noted that “there are many signs of an ever maturing ecosystem. As start-ups grow, we have seen more start-ups raising larger tickets, more exits and a continued interest from International investors in the region, especially from Asia.”
He also pointed to “UBER’s acquisition of CAREEM is another example of a large international player acquiring a local company after Amazon’s acquisition of Souq. This will further act as a catalyst to spur on the regions entrepreneurial environment.”
The report noted that H1 2019 saw 238 investments in MENA-based start-ups, amounting to $471 million of total funding. This is an excellent indicator, a 66% increase in investment dollars compared to H1 2018, in which $283 million was invested.
The number of deals remained healthy at a record high, up 28% compared to H1 2018, showing continued appetite in start-ups from the region at all stages of investment.
Noor Sweid, General Partner of Global Ventures, said “the growth in the start-up and tech ecosystem in the region is phenomenal, and yet, we are just at the beginning of a trajectory that will see technology-driven companies grow significantly and incredibly quickly over the coming years. These numbers illustrate the momentum and successes that the underlying companies and founders are achieving, and the growth in the investment ecosystem and opportunities alongside them.”
The UAE remains the most active startup ecosystem with 26% of all deals and 66% of total funding. Saudi Arabia was one of the fastest growing ecosystems, up 2% from H1 2018 recording 26 investments in H1 2019.
The UAE has maintained its dominance with 26% of all transactions made in to UAE-headquartered start-ups in H1 2019, while it also accounted for 66% of total funding.
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, explains this by highlighting that “With the vision of our leaders, and a strong strategy in place, the UAE has cemented its position as an ideal destination for startups, founders, creative thinkers, and innovators. We have leveraged that vision, through creating dynamic co-working spaces, agile legislation that supports innovation and attractive visa policies for entrepreneurs and business professionals, and we continue our efforts toward positioning Dubai as a global testbed for cutting-edge technologies.”
However, the landscape continues to evolve. Tunisia was the fastest growing ecosystem in H1 2019 – receiving the 5th highest number of deals at 8% of all deals, up 4% from H1 2018. While Saudi Arabia recorded 2% increase in number of deals, up to 11% of all transactions across the MENA region.
FinTech retained its top spot in H1 2019 and accounted for 17% of all deals. Notable investments include the $8 million in Yallacompare, $6 million in Souqalmal and $4 million in Beehive.
E-commerce still remains prevalent accounting for 12% of all deals, followed Delivery & Transport, which was the third most popular industry in terms total deals in H1 2019, accounting for 8%.
The report furthered said 130 institutions invested in MENA-based start-ups in H1 2019, of which 30% were from outside the region.
500 Startups remained the most active venture capital firm, especially at early stage investments, while Flat6Labs was the most active accelerator program.
Moreover, H1 2019 saw the influx trend of foreign investors continue. The entrance of China’s MSA Capital and Germany’s food conglomerate Henkel, among others, highlighted continued international interest in MENA start-ups. In fact, 30% of all entities that invested in MENA-based start-ups were international investors.
Walid Faza, Partner and Chief Operating Officer of MSA Capital, said: “Chinese models are shaping the consumption habits of emerging market tech consumers and MSA’s deep knowledge in both ecosystems positions us to add a lot of value to companies based in MENA.”
EMPG leads the start-up ecosystem with a $100 million fundraise, followed by Yellow Door Energy and Swvl
EMPG receives the highest amount of funding by a single start-up, raising $100 million in February 2019. Yellow Door Energy ($65M) and Swvl ($42 million) complete the top 3.
In total, the top 10 deals in H1 2019 account for 62% of the total investment amount in H1 2019, down 9% from H1 2019. In terms of exits, H1 2019 has seen 15 start-up exits take place across MENA, an increase of 5 compared to H1 2018.
The largest of these was Careem’’ landmark exit to Uber. Magnus Olsson, Co-Founder, Chief Experience Officer noted “Our $3.1 billion deal with Uber was a hugely significant moment, not just for Careem, but also for the Greater Middle East. It was the largest tech deal this part of the world has ever seen and puts our region’s emerging technology ecosystem on the map of both regional and foreign investors.” On the impact the deal will have across the ecosystem, Olsson noted that “Careem views its colleagues as owners of the business and so we introduced an equity scheme that will now see them financially benefit from the transaction. We hope that the deal will act as a catalyst for the next generation of tech startups in our region.”
Following on the ever-increasing ease of accessibility of all renewables-hardware, the costs of technologies reshaping energy-related investment per The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Investment 2019 report have mainly affected and/or facilitated the surging demand for even more power. In effect, it is in the developing world, including, the MENA region where the market seems to be the highest, that this is happening before our very eyes. Hence this article of the World Economic Forum.
The world invested $1.8 trillion in energy last year, with spending on renewables stalling, while oil, gas and coal projects increased.
The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Investment 2019 report shows overall global investment in energy stabilised in 2018 after a recent decline, with the power sector continuing to make up the biggest proportion of this spending. Much of that investment has been fueled by the world’s rapidly increasing demand for electricity.
Investment in coal increased for the first time since 2012, despite reduced Chinese spending to focus on power generation.
When it comes to cleaner fuels, there was little movement in the overall investment in renewables and no net addition to capacity, driven in part by the falling costs of some technologies. But production of biofuels, which has fallen behind the IEA’s sustainable development targets, saw a rise in investment last year.
The agency’s report also showed minimal increases in energy efficiency investments, with spending on transport efficiency remaining constant even though sales of electric vehicles are motoring upwards.
Indeed, the IEA warns there is a “growing mismatch between current trends and the paths to meeting” the world’s climate goals laid out in the 2016 Paris Agreement and “other sustainable development goals.”
The changing landscape
The costs of technologies are reshaping energy-related investment, as the chart below demonstrates.
Some of the most marked changes have been seen in the power sector, where there have been dramatic falls in the costs of solar, onshore wind and battery storage.
Prices for some efficient goods such as light-emitting diodes (LED) and electric vehicles have continued to fall, too. But investment in efficiency innovations is still being held back by governmental policy and financing challenges.
On the other hand, there has been little change in the costs of nuclear power projects and carbon capture and storage – a technology that aims to trap greenhouse gases before they enter the atmosphere.
Who invests the most?
China remained the biggest market for energy investment last year, even as the US is rapidly catching up, the IEA report said.
Increases in oil and gas — particularly in the shale sector — have driven the bulk US investment. By contrast, China is putting much of its money into low-carbon projects, with big investments in nuclear power and renewables.
India is the most rapidly growing market for investment. Elsewhere, investment in energy generally has fallen in recent years in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the agency.
As Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded the latest high-level Belt and Road gathering of world leaders in Beijing last month, China’s signature project has seemingly entered a new phase: worldwide acceptance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a fact of international life (like it or not). So, with the wind at its back, is China doubling down on its investments worldwide? Not exactly. The total value of China’s global investments and construction contracts actually fell by $100 billion in 2018, according to data analyzed from the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global Investment Tracker. Just about every region saw a significant decline in Chinese investment or construction projects except, surprisingly, for one: the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
A flurry of Chinese investment and construction projects in the MENA region over the last three years has made it a key geoeconomic partner for Beijing. But surely, in pure volume terms, the MENA region could not have attracted as much Chinese economic activity as sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia, right? Think again. The MENA region ranked as the second-largest recipient of investment and Chinese construction projects worldwide after Europe in 2018, as the chart below shows.
MENA’s Growing BRI Clout
In 2018, the Middle East and North Africa leapfrogged other emerging markets as a destination for BRI projects.
The MENA region ranked ahead of traditional BRI stalwarts East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa last year, recording $28.11 billion in new projects. The region still lags behind both those regions as a whole since the launch of BRI in 2013 and dating back to 2005, but a three-year surge has brought it in closer proximity to the top of the table. That could mean a windfall for Chinese state-owned construction companies as the majority of MENA projects involve construction, rather than foreign direct investment.
Of the 2018 MENA total, nearly three-quarters was targeted at Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Those three countries also make up half of the “$20 billion club”—the group of countries with more than $20 billion worth of projects from China dating back to 2005.
Chinese Investment in MENA Countries
MENA countries with more than $20 billion worth of investment and construction projects by Chinese firms since 2005.
The list here is heavily skewed toward regional oil producers, with the exception of Egypt, and most of China’s projects in the region involve construction rather than investment. Despite a recent setback, Chinese state-owned enterprises will likely play a prominent role in Egypt’s ambitious infrastructure program, including the building of a new, gleaming capital city just outside Cairo. Chinese construction companies were vitalin President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s ambitious Suez Canal economic zone project.
At the Belt and Road Forum last month, Chinese enterprises also announced a new $3.4 billion investment to build a trade hub for Chinese goods in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port, as well as a manufacturing and processing hub for animal and agricultural products for the food industry. China’s dramatic ramp-up of projects in the UAE suggests that it sees the country as an important piece of its Belt and Road logistics network.
Other significant nodes of China’s economic footprint in the region are Israel ($12.19 billion), Kuwait ($10.43 billion), and Qatar ($7.27 billion), according to data analyzed from AEI’s China Global Investment Tracker for the years 2005-2018.
China is pouring a lot of concrete and cement into construction projects in the region but what of Middle East exports to China? How is China affecting the bottom line of key MENA states?
The answer broadly: If you have oil or gas, China is likely to be a major export destination.
Exports to China From MENA Countries
China has emerged as a vital export destination for several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. For these countries below, China made the top five in 2018.
Major oil and gas producers generate significant revenues from Beijing, and China ranks as the top export destination for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and Oman, according to an analysis of data from the International Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics.
In some cases, key U.S. allies such as the UAE send nearly three times more exports to China than to the United States, and for Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman, the gap is even starker, with nearly eight times, nearly nine times, and nearly 28 times, respectively, more goods exported to China than to the United States.
For Saudi Arabia, the difference in 2018 was less stark, sending some 30 percent more exports to China than to the United States, according to an analysis of IMF data. Expect this gap to widen as the United States continues to ramp up domestic oil production.
Meanwhile, most North African countries still maintain an export profile heavily dependent on Europe rather than on China, and Israel sends four times more goods to the United States than to China.
You can expect this map to get to darker shades of red over the next decade, particularly as China’s demand for energy—especially natural gas—continues to grow.
Afshin Molavi is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the editor and founder of the New Silk Road Monitor blog.
The economic performance of lower-income developing countries will be crucial to reducing poverty further. Although these economies face significant headwinds, they could also seize important new growth opportunities – especially with the help of digital platforms.
MILAN – The global economy is undergoing very large structural shifts, driven by three megatrends. One is the digital transformation of the foundations on which economies are built and run. Another is the growing purchasing power and economic strength of emerging economies, and China in particular. Lastly, there are broad-based political-economy trends, which include rising nationalism, various forms of populism, political and social polarization, and a possible breakdown of the multilateral framework within which the global economy has functioned since World War II.
The media devote most of their attention to the economic, social, and regulatory challenges arising from these megatrends, and to the trade, investment, and technology tensions between China and the United States. Yet a significant share of the world’s population lives in poor countries, or in poorer parts of developing countries. Furthermore, the rapid reduction in global poverty over the past three decades is primarily the result of sustained growth in developing economies.
The future growth prospects of today’s early-stage (that is, lower income – some growing and others not) developing countries will be of huge importance in reducing poverty further. Although these countries face significant headwinds, they could also seize important new growth opportunities – especially with the help of digital platforms.
The headwinds are certainly considerable. For starters, advances in digital technologies – robotics, machine learning, sensors, and vision – directly threaten the labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly upon which lower-income, non-resource-rich economies have traditionally relied.
Moreover, climate change has had its greatest economic impact in the tropical and subtropical regions where most lower-income countries are located. The effects of global warming are highly disruptive in fragile economies, and, taken together, constitute a major new obstacle to growth.1
Fertility rates, meanwhile, remain astonishingly high in some countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In a few of the poorest – Niger, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the rate is 6-7 children per female. The resulting flood of new entrants to the labor market is far outstripping the number of jobs available.
No known growth model can accommodate or keep up with this kind of demographic surge. Even sustained economic growth of around 7% per year won’t be enough. And although fertility tends to decline as incomes rise, that does not happen immediately. Empowering women, therefore, may be the most effective way of starting to address the challenge.
Conflict also disrupts growth. Although many conflicts appear to have a religious or ethnic basis, some scholars believe that their root cause may be economic, with ethnic divisions serving as a way to exclude other groups from access to scarce resources and opportunities. Whatever its source, inequality of opportunity has a highly disruptive effect on governance and hence growth.
But these obstacles are not insurmountable. For one thing, developing countries now have huge potential export markets in middle-income countries, and no longer depend entirely on advanced economies for access to global markets.
There is also a renewed awareness of the importance of infrastructure in enabling growth. In addition to roads, railways, and ports, electricity and digital connectivity are crucial. In this regard, the rapid expansion of cellular wireless technology, combined with the installation of high-capacity undersea broadband pipes around Africa, represents major progress. Meanwhile, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – though criticized by much of the West, and the United States in particular – could bring dramatic improvements in physical and digital connectivity to Central Asia and parts of Africa.
Further advances in critical infrastructure will create important growth opportunities for developing countries via e-commerce, mobile payments, and related financial services. The experience of China strongly suggests that these digital platforms, and the ecosystems that develop around them, are powerful engines for incremental, highly inclusive growth.
China, of course, is a very large, homogenous market. If smaller, lower-income developing countries are to benefit from equally rapid inclusive growth, the digital platforms will have to be regional and international in scope.
Some are starting to emerge. Jumia, a Nigeria-based e-commerce platform covering 14 African countries, recently went public on the New York Stock Exchange, amid considerable excitement. True, the company faces similar obstacles to those that Asian and Latin American platforms previously had to overcome, including a lack of reliable payment systems, low trust between buyers and sellers, and logistics and delivery bottlenecks. But the experience of other regions shows that these shortcomings can be addressed over time.
The bigger risk to these platforms stems from the inevitable and necessary increase in regulation of the Internet around the world. In particular, diverse national regulatory regimes may inadvertently or deliberately disrupt or block the international development of e-commerce ecosystems, hurting lower-income countries in the process. Avoiding the creation of such unintended obstacles should therefore be a high priority for the international community.
Today’s lower-income countries already face a tough task in trying to emulate the impressive growth of developing economies before them. An underperforming global economy, and rising national and international tensions, will make that task even harder. If the world is serious about reducing poverty further, it must pay far more attention to their progress.
Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Advisory Board Co-Chair of the Asia Global Institute in Hong Kong, and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on New Growth Models. He was the chairman of the independent Commission on Growth and Development, an international body that from 2006-2010 analyzed opportunities for global economic growth, and is the author of The Next Convergence – The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World.
Hunger continues to rise in the Near East and North Africa region where over 52 million people are undernourished.
Conflicts and widening rural-urban gaps hamper the region’s efforts to end hunger by 2030.
8 May 2019, Cairo/Rome – Hunger in the Near East and North Africa region (NENA) continues to rise as conflicts and protracted crises have spread and worsened since 2011, threatening the region’s efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Zero Hunger.
Conflict continues to be the main driver of hunger across the region. More than two-thirds of hungry people in NENA, approximately 34 million people, live in conflict-affected countries, compared to 18 million hungry people in countries that are not impacted directly by conflict.
Stunting, wasting, and undernutrition are also far worse in conflict countries than in the other countries.
“Conflicts and civil instability have long-lasting impacts on the food and nutrition security of both affected and surrounding countries in the regions” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.
“The impact of the conflict has been disrupting food and livestock production in some countries and consequently affecting the availability of food across the region,” he added.
“Rising hunger is also compounded by rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources, the growing threat of climate change, increasing unemployment rates, and diminished rural infrastructure and services” Ould Ahmed underscored. The report highlights that the region is not facing just a hunger crisis as some of the highest rates of obesity are also found in countries within the region, putting pressure on people’s health, lifestyles and national health systems and economies. Addressing obesity requires food systems that ensure that people have access to healthy nutritious food and also increased public awareness and information on the risks associated with overweight and obesity.
Inadequate rural transformation hampers efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2030
The report shows that not only do conflicts undermine the region’s Zero Hunger efforts, but also the degree of rural transformation.
“Countries that are not in conflict and have gone furthest in transforming rural areas in a sustainable way including through better management of water resources, have achieved better food security and nutrition outcomes than those in conflict or with lower levels of rural transformation,” Ould Ahmed said, noting how the report stresses that more efforts are needed to boost rural employment, stimulate economic growth in rural areas, reduce urban-rural gaps, and improve agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure and services.
The report highlights how unemployment, particularly for young people and women across all age groups is a significant challenge in the NENA region and is often higher than in other regions of the world. This is aggravated by rural-urban gaps – with significant disparities in living standards and poverty rates between rural and urban areas – and differences in labour productivity between traditional agriculture and industry and services. This gap is deepened by differences in access to education, health as well as other public services and housing.
At the same time, rural areas accommodate around 40 percent of the population, where the majority of poor are living. The report shows that the average wages for those employed in agriculture are likely to be far below those of workers outside the sector. Partially as a result of lower wages in agriculture, rural areas in the NENA region generally have higher income poverty rates than urban areas. On average, rural poverty is about twice as high as poverty in urban areas.
Transforming agriculture to achieve Zero Hunger
At a regional level, there are significant opportunities for transforming agriculture in a sustainable way, starting with the provision of improved access to markets for farmers, promoting investments in agriculture, transfer of technology and other innovations, more efficient and effective management of water resources, as well as key policy changes that support the shift from subsistence farming to commercial and diversified production systems.
“There is a great need to encourage our region’s farmers to produce according to the comparative advantage of the region,” Ould Ahmed said, highlighting that the NENA region has a great potential in the production of crops and livestock products that are least intensive in arable land and water and more intensive in use of labour.
The report highlights that greater efforts and actions are needed to support the development and implementation of policies and programmes to abolish rural-urban differences.
Key facts and figures
Number of hungry people in the Near East and North Africa: 52 million, 33.9 million are in conflict countries directly and 18.1 million in non-conflict countries.
Children under five affected by stunting (low height-for-age): 21.1 percent.
Children under five affected by wasting (low weight-for-height): 8.7 percent.
Children under five who are overweight (high weight-for-height): 9.1 percent
Note to editors: NENA countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.