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01 December 2023

Crisis pushes Middle East investors to China

By Nadim Kawach

The six GCC states could invest a staggering $250 billion (Dh918bn) in Asia over the next five years, most of which would go to China, say business leaders.

The forecast is contained in a statement sent to Emirates Business yesterday by the Federation of the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FGCCI).

Gulf oil producers have launched a major private sector business centre in China to take advantage of the surge in investment opportunities as the global financial crisis appears to be pushing the region eastwards.

The GCC, which controls 45 per cent of the world's recoverable oil deposits, has also called for the prompt signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) with China following the collapse of talks with the European Union.

The FGCCI said it had officially inaugurated the business centre in Beijing following extensive talks between the two sides. It said the facility would serve both sides and expected a 61 per cent growth in GCC-Chinese trade in 2008 after it hit a record $58bn in 2007.

"The federation has formally inaugurated the FGCCI Chamber Agency in the Chinese capital to serve as the hub for promoting and developing bilateral trade, commerce, and investment between the Gulf and China," said the statement by the Dammam-based FGCCI.

"The centre is a joint project between the FGCCI and the New Century Group, China's leading transnational company that promotes trading, commerce, business development, and investment in over 30 countries."

FGCCI Secretary-General Abdul Rahim Hassan Naqi jointly opened the centre with Jialin Liu, Chairman of the New Century Group.

Naqi said the establishment of that facility is very significant in promoting and enhancing the economic relations between GCC and China, adding that it would be a "stepping stone to support the private sectors of both regions."

Liu said the opening of the business centre would greatly encourage Chinese businessmen who are seeking business opportunities in the Gulf. "We expect lots of interest and inquiries from our local businessmen who are eager to establish business connection in the Gulf."

According to Naqi, China offers tremendous investment opportunities for GCC businessmen. "Likewise, the GCC, with its over 700,000 company members, can and will harness and expand its ties and co-operation with their Chinese counterparts. In this regard, the agency will be a strong and effective catalyst in achieving more successes between the private sectors of both countries."

In addition to promoting economic ties between the Gulf and China, the agency will also organise trade delegations to and from China, hold exhibitions and business seminars, and recruit Chinese businessmen to subscribe to the "B2B trading portal set up by FGCCI and New Century Group".

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and China Chamber of International Conference (CCPIT-CCIC), both based in Beijing, have already signified their support to the agency, the statement said.

Dong Songgen, Vice-Chairman of CCPIT-CCIC, said his organisations fully supports the agency, adding that he would urge the Chinese Government, its ministries and offices, as well as business organisations across China, to maintain their co-operation with the agency.

"Naqi also urged CCPIT-CCIC to support the quick finalisation of the Free Trade Agreement between the GCC and China. He informed Dong that the Secretary-General of the GCC, Abdulrahman Hamad Al Attiyah, supports the signing of FTA between GCC and China to serve their interests," the statement said.

FGCCI figures showed bilateral trade between the GCC and China has recorded rapid growth over the past years. From around $16.9bn in 2003, total trade jumped to nearly $33.8bn in 2005, a rise of 71 per cent.

In 2007, the exchange climbed to a record $58bn, with Chinese imports amounting to $30.3bn and exports to GCC reaching $27.7bn.

"Official statistics for 2008 have not been finalised. However, based on the average annual 61 per cent growth in bilateral trade, it is expected that trade volume between GCC and China in 2008 would have grown."

It quoted estimates by the consulting group McKinsey that by 2020, total trade flows between China and the Middle East will climb to between $350bn and $500bn, with China-GCC trade accounting for much of that run-up.

China's investments in the region are also growing rapidly, with an estimated $466 million in 2006.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, there are 55 Chinese entrepreneurs who are engaged in construction projects, including three companies engaged in oil and gas prospecting and exploration and 10 undertaking petrochemical production.

"The GCC investment in China is also forthcoming. It is predicted that that the GCC countries would invest as much as $250bn in Asia over the next five years, mainly in China," the statement said.