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.
A Saudi push to become a major natural gas player is as much about diversifying the kingdom’s domestic consumption and export mix as it is about taking advantage of harsh US economic sanctions against Iran designed to force a change of the Islamic republic’s policy, if not its regime.
The sale speaks to the ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Aramco, that seeks to become a major gas player by partnering with producers across the globe, including in the Russian Artic, and developing its own reserves.
Aramco expects the partnerships to position it as major marketer and trader, primarily in the spot and short-term markets.
Those discussions are certain not to include Qatar and Iran, two of the region and the world’s foremost producers and the kingdom’s primary regional bete noirs.
If anything, the Saudi move is not only part of its longer-term efforts to reduce its dependence on oil exports and diversify its economy but also an attempt to take advantage of the fact that Iran is severely hampered by the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against it.
The waivers granted the eight countries exemptions to sanctions imposed last year after the United States withdrew from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
Similarly, with the development of Saudi gas exports and sales also intended to chip away at Qatar’s market share, the Gulf state is not an option.
Qatar’s diversification of its exports was a key factor in its ability to so far fend off a 23-month old Saudi-UAE-led economic and diplomatic boycott that, like in the case of Iran, is designed to force it to change its policies.
The two sides’ entrenched positions offer no prospect of a resolution of the dispute any time soon.
Saudi long-term gas ambitions could have shorter term consequences for its regional policies, particularly with regard to Iran.
The kingdom, perceived to be a proponent of regime change in Tehran, may prefer a substantial weakening of the Iranian government that keeps it contained and struggling to make ends meet, rather than the rise of a leadership acceptable to the West that would be allowed to quickly regain its place in global energy markets.
Striving for regime collapse rather than regime change would also allow Saudi Arabia to dampen prospects for Iran’s Indian-backed port of Chabahar, a mere 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast from Gwadar, the Chinese-supported port in Pakistani Balochistan.
Saudi Arabia has pledged to build a US$10 billion refinery in Gwadar.
Saudi plans to develop its gas industry suggest that the kingdom needs a decade to realize them.
“We are looking to shift from only satisfying our utility industry in the kingdom, which will happen especially with the increase in renewable and nuclear to be an exporter of gas and gas products,” Mr. Nasser said.
“Aramco’s international gas team has been given an open platform to look at gas acquisitions along the whole supply chain. They have been given significant financial firepower — in the billions of dollars,” he added.
Access to the project’s gas would allow Saudi Arabia to negotiate long-term deals and/or sell cargoes on the spot market or increase domestic supply.
Saudi Arabia is also looking to buy natural gas assets in the United States.
A Saudi-Russian deal in the Artic would likely not only enhance the kingdom’s position but also bring Saudi Arabia, a member of OPEC, and Russia, which is not formally part of the cartel, closer together in their joint management of global oil supplies.
In a world of rising economic nationalism, Saudi gas ambitions are not being universally welcomed.
While there is little doubt that the Trump administration will look favourably at Saudi investment, some analysts are raising red flags.
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.
EY research says the largest event to be held in the Arab World is predicted to add the equivalent of 1.5% to UAE GDP
Expo 2020 Dubai will boost the UAE economy by AED122.6 billion ($33.4 billion) and support 905,200 job-years between 2013 and 2031, according to an independent report published by global consultancy EY.
During the peak six-month period of the World Expo, the largest event to be held in the Arab World is predicted to add the equivalent of 1.5 percent to UAE gross domestic product.
The scale of investment pouring in to construct and host an event of this ambition, as well as goods and services consumed by the millions expected to visit and the businesses that will occupy the Expo site in the legacy phase, will result in an economic dividend that will benefit businesses large and small across a range of sectors for years to come, according to the report.
From November 2013 – when Dubai won the bid to host the Expo – until its opening in October 2020, the economic impetus will be driven by the construction sector as work continues on building the site and supporting infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the Dubai Metro Route 2020 line, EY noted.
Najeeb Mohammed Al-Ali, executive director of the Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau, said: “This independent report demonstrates that Expo 2020 Dubai is a critical long-term investment in the future of the UAE, which will contribute more than 120 billion dirhams to the economy between 2013 and 2031.
“Not only will the event encourage millions around the world to visit the UAE in 2020, it will also stimulate travel and tourism and support economic diversification for years after the Expo, leaving a sustainable economic legacy that will help to ensure the UAE remains a leading destination for business, leisure and investment.”
The report added that small and medium enterprises, a core component of the UAE economy, will receive AED4.7 billion in investment during the pre-Expo phase, supporting 12,600 job-years.
Job-years is defined as full-time employment for one person for one year and describes the employment impact over the life or phase of a project.
During the peak six months of Expo 2020, visitor spending on tickets, merchandise, food and beverage, hotels, flights and local transport will propel economic activity.
Expo 2020 expects 25 million visits, with 70 per cent of visitors coming from outside the UAE, providing the hospitality industry with an unmissable opportunity to show the world what the UAE has to offer.
The EY report added that the positive thrust will continue in the decade after Expo closes its doors in April 2021, thanks largely to the transformation of the site into District 2020, an integrated urban development that will house the Dubai Exhibition Centre.
Matthew Benson, partner, Transaction Advisory Services, MENA, EY, said: “Expo 2020 is an exciting long-term investment for the UAE, and is expected to have a significant impact on the economy and how jobs are created directly and indirectly.
“As the host, Dubai aims to use the event to further enhance its international profile and reputation. The event will celebrate innovation, promote progress and foster cooperation, and entertain and educate global audiences.
As per the World Bank in its latest announcement, “Growth has picked up across the region and is projected to strengthen over the next few years. And almost all MENA countries have moved to reduce or eliminate energy subsidies, identify new sources of non-oil revenues, and expand social safety nets to shield the poor from adverse effects of change.”
Meanwhile the World Economic Forum informs that the MENA region hosts the world’s elite today and tomorrow by the Dead Sea shore, to try and debate some of the region’s current issues. Jordan has already held the WEF’S gathering in the recent past; refer to MENA-Forum.
ByMirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
For thousands of years, the Dead Sea has attracted visitors from far and wide, drawn by legends of its power to heal and rejuvenate. On 6-7 April, 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society will gather on its shores for the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over two days they will confront the issues facing more than 400 million people.
A region of two opposing systems
The Arab world is a region of two contrasting systems. One system features a dynamic private sector, digitally native youth and open economies. The other has a bloated public sector and closed, controlled economies.
Most people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) interact with both systems, facing a mixed reality. Wealth sits side-by-side with poverty; an exciting entrepreneurial culture struggles with leaden bureaucracy; and an insatiable appetite for the new is balanced with a reverence for tradition.
How these two systems interact – and whether the dynamic, forward-looking system can thrive while respecting the traditions of the Arab world – is among the most important issues the region is facing today.
Five key questions
The following five areas will determine whether the Arab world can successfully move towards the system of innovation and competitiveness.
1. Can the Arab world develop a new, sustainable economic and social framework?
The social contract in much of the Arab world has relied on state-provided employment. This is unsustainable. Nearly half the population is under 25, and a quarter of those are unemployed. Add the biggest gender gap in the world, and it’s clear a new framework is needed.
2. Can a mechanism for conflict resolution be developed?
Ongoing humanitarian disasters in Syria, Yemen and Iraq require immediate attention, as do the longer-term projects of rebuilding fully functioning states. The region has been home to long-standing tensions, and unless these are mitigated, a thriving, competitive region will be hard to realise.
3. Can an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation be developed?
The stories of individual success in the region are too often ones of thriving despite the economic framework. An ecosystem that nurtures innovation and encourages firms to flourish and grow is needed.
4. Are countries prepared for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Changes in the way we work are happening more quickly than most societies are prepared for. There is a short window for establishing the right regulatory environment, and reskilling people to make sure they – and the larger economies – can capture the opportunities of technology.
5. Will addressing corruption and transparency be a priority?
Governance reform is a “must do” issue in the region and disillusionment caused by perceptions of corruption is particularly strong among young Arabs.
Global questions, Arab answers
While other regions have grappled with similar questions, the Arab world needs Arab solutions, that capitalize on the unique strengths of the area while accounting for its important sensibilities. There are good examples of this starting to happen.
The UAE is playing a leading role in integrating the region into the global economy. The new Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, run by the Dubai Future Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, is working to shape governance and capacity issues in the MENA, and it could shape data protocols across the world as a whole. Europe is enforcing strict data protections and regulations, while the United States is taking a more liberal approach. The Arab solution being developed may not just be a better fit for the region, but for elsewhere as well.
Saudi Arabia already has an influential voice as part of the G20, and it’s a voice that can grow. In 2020, it will host the Riyadh Summit, presenting an opportunity for greater impact on the regional and global agenda. A forward-looking programme that strengthens the MENA economies and the global economy as a whole will be an important step toward long-term success for the area.
Actions not words
There is a dire need for a new collaborative platform that brings governments together with businesses and other stakeholders in private-public cooperation. This is the aim of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Jordan. By convening members of the public and private sectors, and bringing new voices into the arena, such as the 100 Arab Start-ups, we hope to facilitate forward-leaning dialogue that understands and respects the values and culture of the region.
World trade will continue to face strong headwinds in 2019 and 2020 after growing more slowly than expected in 2018 due to rising trade tensions and increased economic uncertainty, said the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
WTO economists expect merchandise trade volume growth to fall to 2.6 per cent in 2019 — down from 3.0 per cent in 2018. Trade growth could then rebound to 3.0 per cent in 2020; however, this is dependent on an easing of trade tensions.
WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said: “With trade tensions running high, no one should be surprised by this outlook. Trade cannot play its full role in driving growth when we see such high levels of uncertainty.”
“It is increasingly urgent that we resolve tensions and focus on charting a positive path forward for global trade which responds to the real challenges in today’s economy – such as the technological revolution and the imperative of creating jobs and boosting development.
“WTO members are working to do this and are discussing ways to strengthen and safeguard the trading system. This is vital. If we forget the fundamental importance of the rules-based trading system we would risk weakening it, which would be an historic mistake with repercussions for jobs, growth and stability around the world,” he added.
Trade growth in 2018 was weighed down by several factors, including new tariffs and retaliatory measures affecting widely-traded goods, weaker global economic growth, volatility in financial markets and tighter monetary conditions in developed countries, among others. Consensus estimates have world GDP growth slowing from 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.6 per cent in both 2019 and 2020.
The preliminary estimate of 3.0 per cent for world trade growth in 2018 is below the WTO’s most recent forecast of 3.9 per cent issued last September. The shortfall is mostly explained by a worse-than-expected result in the fourth quarter, when world trade as measured by the average of exports and imports declined by 0.3 per cent. Until then, third quarter trade had been up 3.8 per cent, in line with WTO projections.
Trade expansion in the current year is most likely to fall within a range from 1.3 per cent to 4.0 per cent. It should be noted that trade growth could be below this range if trade tensions continue to build, or above it if they start to ease.
Nominal trade values also rose in 2018 due to a combination of volume and price changes. World merchandise exports totalled $19.48 trillion, up 10 per cent from the previous year. The rise was driven partly by higher oil prices, which increased by roughly 20 per cent between 2017 and 2018. – TradeArabia News Service
Do not panic! This is not about telling you how
your bank accounts and pension funds have been used to finance the production
of nuclear bombs (they call it ‘investment’).
Nor it is about the four dozens of major and minor
wars that the so-called “traditional weapons,” which are being
manufactured and exported by civilised, democratic countries, continue to
It is not about the irrational depletion of natural
resources, the destruction of forests, the massive provision of arms to “rebel
groups’ to burn entire villages, rape girls and women, and recruit child
soldiers in more than one African country, for the sake of ‘cleaning’ the mines
area for big multinationals to continue extracting precious minerals which
serve to produce more (and more expensive) smartphones. Not even it is about
how today’s youth will see more plastic than fish in all seas.
More: this article will not focus on the moral and
intellectual bankruptcy of so many mediocre apprentices of self-called
‘politicians’, who embrace dangerous fanaticisms while, in some ‘very
democratic’ countries, calling their own selves “centre-right” (some
dare saying they are simply “centre”), slipping further into
Nor it is about those so many States which were
once net exporters of emigrants (Italy, Spain, Greece, etc), but which now
stand as die-hard enemies of immigrants… all under the pretext of the
“crisis” they have created and the resulting high unemployment rates,
and “national security,” post-truth arguments.
Let alone big powers such as the United States,
which have been entirely built up by migrants at the easy cost of exterminating
the original, native populations. What to say about Canada? And Australia…?
Now those migrants who are forced to flee created
armed conflicts, impoverishment, climate change (which they did not contribute
to generate), are easy prey to arbitrary measures – walls, fences, and shame
pacts to send them to detention centres and slavery markets in countries like
So, what the hell is this article all about? Well,
it is about a scarce handful of examples on the biggest damages the so-called
globalisation has caused to human species.
Let’s begin with the term globalisation itself, a
process that was somehow formalised in the beginning of the 80’s with the
performance on power stage of British “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher and US
actor who became President, Ronald Reagan.
The Iron Lady-Premier and the Actor-President
represented the visible face of the also so-called ‘neo-liberalism’, which in
poor, simple words has led to the steady dismantlement of all aspects of
painfully gained social welfare services – from public healthcare, to
retirement pensions, through the suppression of workers rights, labour unions,
public education and a very long etcetera. In short, it was about turning back
to the Victorian era.
Instead, neo-liberalism rapidly paved the way to a
wild wave of privatisation, the supremacy of the uncontrolled marked rules,
record-high youth unemployment rates, abysmal inequalities…
Let alone infinite greed, including the unleashing
of endless wars, for the sake of keeping happy gigantic weapons industry and
the business of ‘reconstruction’ of destroyed countries, all in exchange of
their generous funding for electoral campaigns.
This Anglo-saxon neo-liberal hegemony soon
contagioned European States, which rapidly adapted their ‘values’ to those new
ones coming from Washington and London. Business as usual for Europeans, some
Rather than providing a longish list of documented,
figure-supported examples of what such process has meant at the macro and
micro-economic levels, this quick, chaotic tale modestly pretends to focus on
some of its biggest impacts on human beings. Human beings that are now
considered as mere numbers of ‘voters’ (mind you not any more ‘electors’).
One point is that the term globalisation has
consistently been systematically given positive connotations, while it could be
rightfully interpreted as a process of gradual “monetisation” and even
“dollaristaion” of livelihoods, and soon became an aggressive ‘massification’
of imported habits, blind consumption, hysterical greed, irrational imitation,
the death of what used to be considered ‘truth’ (the post-truth era), the
dominance of disinformation and misinformation (the ‘fake news’).
In the course of this process, the so-called “low
classes” have been provided with easy bank credits to purchase houses, last
model of cars, travel across the world… Psychologically, this led them to
believe that they had become “middle class” and later on “high middle class”,
thus approaching the enviable status of “high class.”
Then came the crisis. With it, the most vulnerable
groups, falsely transformed in privileged groups, lost everything—the loans,
the houses, the cars, travelling, etc.
One of the most dramatic consequences is the loss
of identity—both individual and collective identity. Simply, identity has
Such a dangerous consequence is now being rapidly
aggravated by the arrival of hi-tech products—robots replacing humans.
Sorry for this quick, chaotic tale about some of
the most perilous impacts of the globalisation process that, according to some
interpretations, would be now dismantled. The fact is such massification
appears to have no end.
In exchange, the ‘voters’ hare now being told that
they will receive, sooner or later, a basic income (also called unconditional
basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income
or universal demo-grant), which implies that all citizens or residents of a
country will regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to
any income received from elsewhere.
According to its defenders, this would be financed
by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. A difficult exercise given that
the private sector has been taking over the roles of the states, which have
been gradually dismantled.
way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident
failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are
expected to do: that’s to consume all what industries produce and, by the way,
continue playing their role as ‘voters’ (not electors, mind you again!).
Baher Kamall is an Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular journalist, with over 45 years of professional experience — from reporter to special envoy to chief editor of national dailies and an international news agency. Baher is former Senior Advisor to the Director general of the international news agency IPS (Inter Press Service) and he also contributed to prestigious magazines such as GEO, Muy Interesante, and Natura, Spain. He is also publisher and editor of Human Wrongs Watch.