Expect China-Middle East trade to grow rapidly
China and the Middle East are likely to expand two-way capital flows rapidly in the coming years, as investment catches up with recent fast growth in trade, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi financial services firm Invest AD told a conference in Shanghai on Monday.
Two-way trade between China and the Middle East has tripled in the last five years to US$107 billion in 2009. Chinese companies have also become more active in the Middle East, especially in the infrastructure sector, winning US$2.1 billion worth of the construction deals in the United Arab Emirates alone in 2008.
The next growth area will be two-way investment, with Abu Dhabi emerging as an entry point to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Nazem Al Kudsi said during a panel discussion at the Abu Dhabi and China Economic Forum. The Middle East and China are becoming major investors on the global arena, and both are high-growth markets.
“There are exciting opportunities for both sides,” Al Kudsi said. “And as China looks at MENA, Abu Dhabi is emerging as the easiest and most attractive route into the region. Whether you’re a Chinese oil entity, a construction entity, or a financial services entity, Abu Dhabi is creating the right financial, logistics and telecoms infrastructure.”
The Middle East and North Africa region is expected to record 4.2 percent growth in gross domestic product this year, while China is headed for 10 percent growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
But Al Kudsi noted that although the Gulf states and China had become major investors globally, two-way investment flows lagged far behind the growth in trade.
“A lot of people ask me, why Chinese investors should look at our region when their country is growing so quickly,” Al Kudsi said. “But as my grandfather and your grandfather could tell you, way before the advent of portfolio theory, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Invest AD and Hong Kong's Quam Ltd. announced recently a partnership to offer Asian investors the opportunity to use Middle East exposure to diversify their portfolios. Invest AD will act as sub-advisor, stock picking for Middle East-focused funds launched by Quam.
Most investment between China and the Middle East has been in the field of energy and petrochemicals. For example, Borouge, majority owned by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, opened a plant in Shanghai this year to produce polypropylene compounds used in the auto industry.
China and Middle Eastern countries should look at a wider partnership, Al Kudsi said. Using oil revenues for economic diversification, the Middle East is embarking on a huge infrastructure building programme, similar to China’s in the 1990s. The region is also looking to cooperate with China in areas such as manufacturing and green technology.
The one-day Abu Dhabi and China Economic Forum, was the first such conference to be organized by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Economic Development, Chinese bank ICBC and Institutional Investor.