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Mon 23 May 2011 10:33 AM

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Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum

Read all the breaking news and speeches live, as the Middle East's top business leaders answer the key economic questions of the day

Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Shahab Lufti, CEO, H&H Developers, Khalid Al Malik, CEO, Dubai Properties Group, John Davis, CEO, Colliers, Jonathon Davidson founding partner, Davidson & Co
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
The panel discussion on the real estate sector was moderated by Andrew Neil
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
V Shankar, regional CEO for Standard Chartered says that the scale of recent regulatory changes in the last two years globally has been unprecedented
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Hussien Dabbas President & CEO, Royal Jordanian Airlines said that the carrier is dealing with heavy competition
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Mohi-Din BinHendi, the president of BinHendi Enterprises speaks at the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
CEO of du Osman Sultan takes the stage to give his forecast for the UAE telecoms industry
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
The Minister of Economy and keynote speaker Sultan Saeed Al Mansoori
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Live from the 4th Arabian Business Forum
Andrew Neil, the BBC television presenter and also chairman of ITP (publishers of Arabian Business) speaks at the conference. (ITP Images)

For live pictures of the event, speakers and delegates, click here


So that marks the end of our coverage of the 4th Arabian Business Conference. It’s a been a resounding success, and we’re gratefully for the speaker and the delegates for their candid assessments. We hope you've enjoyed the blog.


So what is Standard Chartered’s strategy now and for the next five years? Shankar says that it will continue to focus on the emerging markets – specifically Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The questions are coming thick and fast from the floor now. What can banks do to help the real estate market? Standard Chartered is building its HQ here in Dubai, Shankar says. But more generally, nothing can really help until the demand-supply equilibrium is reached. And with time running, Andrew Neil calls time on proceedings.

“It would seem to me that where we are today is as good a place as any to do business anywhere in the world,” he concludes. Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you at the next Arabian Business Forum in September."


Andrew Neil moves on to the Q&A, cutting straight to the chase with his first question. Why are bankers paid so much?

“I’m not trying to defend bankers by any means – and some payments have been egregious – but every profession fishes in a pool of talent relevant to itself. It’s a different pool of talent you are fighting for, and the payment is determined by the market," says Shankar.

Is MENA not one of the worst performers in terms of economic development, shoots back Neil?

“It is easy to get despondent by looking at MENA versus Japan today,” says Shankar. “Yes, free markets help faster economic development, but some parts of the GCC and MENA are freer than many parts of the world that have grown fast, including Asia.”

He cites Korea as a stellar success story. “My sense about the Arab Spring is that you look back in 10 years time, the region will be a better place,” he says. “I hope this Arab Spring will lead to more unleashing of private enterprise, more meritocracy and more of a situation where know-how counts more than know-who. It is not about democracy, but having the right institutions, due process and the right laws.” 


The MENA region will increase 4-5 percent as a total fraction of world GDP to $17 trillion by 2030, Shankar says. According to Standard Chartered, that would make the regional economy twice as big as Japan’s. Emerging economies will account for almost two thirds of the pick up in the world economy between now and 2030, while export volumes have tripled since the 1990s.

Shankar is also calling for a development bank for the region, mirroring those in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Quite what the hard-working executives at the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah think of that, we’re not sure. 


Shankar says that the scale of recent regulatory changes in the last two years globally has been unprecedented. New liquidity requirements are in place, and retail banking may well be ring-fenced in the future. But is there a risk the cure ends up being worse than the disease, Shankar asks? If a country borrows more than it can pay, sooner or later there will be a crisis. “Banks are like drivers of cars – but when the government gives you a Ferrari, you will often drive faster,” he says.

More generally, MENA has a huge young population, and Shankar says that the demographics could be disaster is job creation doesn’t occur. Across MENA, one in four people are unemployed, and there’s a need for economic diversification, he adds. But some countries have the ability to spend money to help themselves – like the Gulf – while locations like Yemen does not have that ability.


With that, Hussein Dabbas departs, and we’re onto our final sector – the banking industry. V Shankar, regional CEO for Standard Chartered, is quickly into his stride. What is the impact of the recent uprisings? What will be the regulatory changes in the region? And what will be the impact of the shift in global trading trends?

Live blog continues on next page....


Where would you like RJ to be in 10 years time, asks Andrew Neil? “We plan around 65-70 destinations by that time, but our main concern is to increase frequencies to attract business traffic,” he says. He adds that the delays over the Boeing has also been expensive for the firm – especially given that the firm’s current fleet burn up more fuel than the 787s.

In terms of fuel, Dabbas says that this year’s budget was set at $85 a barrel, which is why the airline posted a loss for the first quarter. “We do put in a surcharge, but it barely costs 40 percent of the additional charges,” he says. “We need to find ways of how to manage the extra cost, and we have cost control mechanisms where we are trying everything, including freezing manpower, to be able to at least the cost of the high fuel price.” 

Dabbas says that Emirates and Etihad have much to learn from each other if they work closer together. “I don’t see Dubai being where it is right now without Emirates,” he says. The RJ CEO also says that airline alliance membership gives the carrier great access to outside markets – a move that has so far been avoided by the Gulf carriers. Aren’t US airlines the worst in the world? “I think they are great,” laughs Dabbas. “I think you should be in the diplomatic corps,” says Neil.


Another major concern is the EU emissions trading scheme – Dabbas says that the airline could well be paying between €2m and €4m by 2012 over the issue. “Airlines most likely will start imposing a CO2 tax on passengers, yet another tax,” he adds. He’s also concerned about poor air traffic management in Europe. But, in concluding, the RJ says the airline will continue to grow, posting sustainable profits and looking to the future.


So cost savings are absolutely vital. Dabbas says that even the water used for onboard lavatories is carefully monitored – the planes will only carry 25 percent of the tank for short-haul flights, for example. “Airlines that succeed have the right strategy – but we also have airlines that don’t succeed,” he says. “It’s because they don’t change, or accept new realities.”

IATA has predicted that airline profits will drop from $16bn to $8bn this year. There will be less travellers, lower prices to attract more passengers – all of which affect the bottom line. Dabbas says the first quarter results from airlines across the world have not been encouraging.

The carrier is also being affected by the growth of the big airlines, such as Lufthansa. In the region, Dabbas says, the airlines don’t talk to each other. “Even though many of the Arab carriers have a lot more synergies, we don’t have the ability to think about how we can combine our services,” he says. “I don’t mean doing away with the brand, or losing flag-carrier status, but there are a lot of ways we can combine our resources.”


Moving onto the airline sector more generally, Dabbas points out that carriers are driving factors in each country’s economy. He relates a recent talk given by Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who says that one of his first targets was to set up a top-class airline – and the results are there for all to see.

“Airlines now – the actual cost of operation – goes to fuel, and the rest is everything else, planes, employees etc,” he says. “So it’s a major part of our story.”

But RJ has also been extremely affected by the Arab Spring revolts, he says. Most of the countries that the carrier serves have been hurt directly.

“There has also been the economic slowdown – if you don’t have money or a secure job, you won’t travel,” he says. “Even though economies are recovering, airlines are taking longer to recover, as some economies are taking longer than others to heal.”

Dabbas also says that airlines are an easy target for government, particularly in terms of taxation, and regulations. “We also operate in airports that are monopolies – at Queen Alia for example, you only have one option, and they will decide how much to charge in terms of handling etc.” Yet, he says, most airlines remain resilient, and continue to expand and grow, Dabbas says.


Now on stage, having stepped straight off a flight from Amman, is Hussein Dabbas, the CEO of Royal Jordanian. Hussein is speaking about the airline industry – which he says isn’t such a pleasant job in the circumstances. The oil price has played havoc with the sector, and the Jordanian carrier is dealing with heavy competition not only in the Gulf, but also from Europe as well.

Having said that, the long-standing carrier remains optimistic, and is looking forward to receiving 11 787 Dreamliners from 2014.

“We are a small airline – last year we carried a little over 3m passengers, although that’s twice as many as five years ago,” he says. The carrier also posted $30m in profits – not a bad figure, considering the tempestuous times the sector is facing. This year may be different, he adds, rather ominously.

Live blog continues on next page....


Are the Gulf economies better placed than the Arab world? “What happens in the Arab world affects the GCC – it’s not an isolated place,” says Hayeck. “The war in Lebanon in 2006 hit the Dubai stock market, for example.”

And the fallout from the Arab Spring is still continuing. Reynolds says the Gulf is well positioned – due to less corruption and higher levels of enfranchisement than elsewhere in MENA. And with that, Neil thanks the panelists, and it’s time for a quick coffee break.


Are local balance sheets strong? Hayeck says that the UAE central bank has reinforced provisioning rules, and there are new models for assessing credit risk. “When that provisioning cycle reaches the end, that’s when the banks start to lend, and I think we’re almost there,” he says.

In terms of the biggest threat to the global economy, Reynolds says that uncontrolled deflation in China is one to watch – not the European sovereign debt crisis. “Global linkages are changing,” says Ellam. “The risk is now of something going wrong in the Asian market, rather than in Europe, is more significant for the region.”

Mehta says that while European debt default is a possibility, international terrorism is a major risk – particularly for the big energy players.

What about the price of gold? Mehta says it has peaked – and the rest of the panelists largely agree, if there is no ‘black swan’ scenario. 


Yogesh Mehta, MD of Petrochem, says he is optimistic about Dubai and the region. “But let’s not take comfort in the fact that Yemen, Libya are etc are suffering, and that we will prosper,” he adds. Mehta also says that the gas-to-liquids technology will ensure that gas prices will be tempered.

Andrew Neil says that Arab stocks lost $140bn in the first three months of the year – when will that be recovered? Hayeck says that emerging market equities are overvalued, and that most people are putting their money in the frontier markets – such as the Gulf.

“It’s important to bear in mind that all emerging markets have underperformed over the last six months,” says Reynolds. “You can’t really complain about the performance of the UAE and Egypt in the context of what’s going on – but for institutional investors there’s very little interest in the region. What will change that is a resolution of the unrest, alongside a change in risk appetite.”

Reynolds also says that the growth profile in the Gulf is relatively weak by historical standards – and that combined with the high risk factor, means that there are other markets more favourable to investors right now.


Mohi-Din BinHendi leaves the stage after an entertaining discusssion, and we’re now going to take a look at the state of the economy in Dubai and the UAE. Paul Reynolds, MD and head of capital at Rothschild, says that health, education and tourism are performing well, alongside trade, and to some extent, oil and petrochemicals activity.

Irfan Ellam, vice president at Al Mal Capital says that real estate is still the drag on the economy, and will remain so for some time. Walid Hayeck, head of asset management at The National Investor says that the reason for Qatar’s growth of 20 percent GDP is largely due to the increased LNG production plans – and that comparisons between Qatar and the UAE is therefore not entirely fair.


A question from the floor now. A fashion designer is asking why there isn’t support in Gulf malls for local designers. She says landlords will only give space to the big Western names, instead of helping out local artists.

“For designers, there is a time in life, that when you hit success and you become a label to be reckoned with – that’s when a mall will open for you," says BinHendi.

And what will be the first Arab brand to go global in this part of the world, Neil asks? “The BinHendi label,” BinHendi laughs.

Yogesh Mehta – a speaker on one of our later panels – says that mall culture may be strong, but the retail economy is actually suffering.

“The economy did grow sick, and now it’s recovering. Some retail is hurting – some are not hurting. Jewellery is hurting – they wanted to replicate the Gold Souk in the malls – and they all fell flat on their face. Families will go to a particular jeweller, and it’s a relationship of trust. When you throw 200 jewellers into a mall, who is going to survive?”


Andrew Neil is asking the questions now – is Dubai still going through a storm? “No question,” replies BinHendi. “The government is looking at debt and cutting down on its budgets. But they should not increase or inflate charges, or give too many tickets or fines. It should be economically possible, and the government wants people to come here.

Are there enough shopping malls here, Neil asks? “More than enough – if anyone wants to add another mall, they need to visit a psychiatrist,” BinHendi says. He also adds that prices are competitive in Dubai compared to the rest of the world.

“The Chinese have started coming here – they come in big groups, and the Russians are still very prominent shoppers, as are the Indians.”

Live blog continues on next page...


However, improvements need to be made. “We need an anchor entertainment venue for the family,” BinHendi says. “Not Disney, but we have our own stories, like Sinbad. There is a craving for an entertainment venue like this.”

BinHendi says that he spent five years working on a theme park project in conjunction with George Lucas and Bechtel, before the plans were pulled by the bankers. But he says a venue like that is badly needed.


“Retail doesn’t happen overnight – there are many cities in the world trying to take the top position,” BinHendi says. “Dubai has played its cards very smartly over the last 120 years or so.” The executive is giving us a potted history of the UAE, stressing that – contrary to popular opinion – the Dubai dream didn’t happen overnight. It’s to do with a long-held policy of accommodating foreigners, he adds, which has really led to the city that you see today. “Dubai has this chemistry – and I think it works with everyone.”


Welcome back to the 4 Arabian Business Forum. The delegates have had their lunch and we’re settling in for three hours of engrossing commentary on the UAE economy, the retail sector, aviation and banking.

Next up is Mohi-Din BinHendi, the president of BinHendi Enterprises, who is about to take the stage to give a keynote speech.


Sultan says that the telecoms industry needs to demystify technology in order to allow greater access to content users, as well as ensuring fair and ethical practices in driving development. He also says that the Arab world lacks leading websites, and the top region-based website covers football. The du CEO  says that “we need to stand in this digital space and exist as the Arab world”. In conclusion, Sultan says that more intuitive systems are on the way.

And with that, Sultan leaves, to applause from the audience.  We're breaking now for lunch, but we'll be back at 2pm with not-to-be-missed speeches from the CEO of Royal Jordanian Airlines, Hussein Dabbas, and V.Shankar, Standard Chartered's CEO for Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Americas.


Sultan also says that internet access has now become not just a human need, but a human right. He cites the role the internet played during the Arab Spring as an example. He adds that 10bn apps have now been downloaded from the Apple Store – that’s two per person worldwide. And the introduction of the cloud is changing things still further. Today, the telecoms sector in the UAE is worth AED31bn and the number-one contributor to the federal government through royalties, he says.


Sultan is now talking about data – the elephant in the room for the telecoms industry. Every day, there are six years of video uploaded on YouTube, he says. Among the top eight countries worldwide in terms of YouTube users per capita are Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. All this is a massive challenge for telcos.


Osman Sultan is the man behind the emergence of the UAE’s second telco, du, which made waves in the first quarter after more than doubling profits to $56m. The firm has a 40 percent share of the UAE market.

Sultan is giving a quick overview of the future of the telecoms industry. In 2015, there will be 7.2bn communicating devices, and 50bn machines that are potentially able to communicate. That’s from vending machines to parking machines – all of these are going to become communications devices.

 “This is fundamentally changing our industry,” Sultan says. For decades, the historical operators had a good knowledge of their industry, but we’re now moving to a world where the internet and IPTV have led to a lot of uncertainty, particularly in terms of the revenue model.


Another audience member – a banker – says that the lack of protection for banks, in terms of repossession – means that the mortgage rates and levels will never fully recover. Davidson says that the mortgage law does exist, but the default scenario takes a matter of months and can be very complicated. From a bank’s perspective, that risk needs to be priced, he adds. There have been successful auctions, though.

So what’s going on with Dubailand, Neil asks Dubai Properties Al Malik. “Dubailand is currently in the process of evaluating new projects,” the CEO says. “We are renegotiating the terms of the contracts and the other issue is the size of these projects – so we’re reviewing the contracts to make it easier for investors.”

So Dubailand hasn’t been abandoned, Neil asks? “Not at all – we will have something to announce [in terms of the revised masterplan] this year,” Al Malik says. 

And with that, we're wrapping up property and moving on to telecoms where the CEO of du, Osman Sultan is about to take the stage.

Live blog continues on next page...


Andrew Neil asks whether the regional unrest has benefited the UAE, which he refers to as the “Switzerland of the Middle East”. Al Malik says that there has been plenty of capital flow to the UAE, with tourism and hotel revenues trending upwards.

Residency visas are now on the agenda. Lutfi says it is a political decision that needs to be taken by the government. He says that would be an easy option, but another boost for the market would be more favourable interest rates, where the bare minimum is around 6-7 percent. “You can’t blame the banks,” says Davis.  However, there has been an increase in mortgage activity in the first quarter of 2011, he adds. On the development finance side, Lutfi says that is still tough.


Another question from the audience – when will the oversupply situation ease, on both the residential and commercial side. Andrew Neil says the party line last year was 20 months, so what’s the view of the panel now?

Davis says 100,000 residential units are coming online in the next three years - which could take five or six years for the market to digest. Then on the commercial side, there are those 75 towers worth of space again – he estimates that will take around five to seven years to be sold or leased off.  Davis also says that single-owner properties are far more desirable for international investors. He says developers need to sit down and see what is required from an international point of view. 

But Al Malik says that it is impossible to say when the overhang will be over, simply because no-one has the real numbers. Davis says the numbers have been clarified with the project developers themselves – specifically the 45,000 units to come online this year. Lutfi says that it is unlikely that so many will actually come onto the market in 2011, as most projects have a 12-24 month delivery delay.


Andrew Neil says that there is a reputational issue at stake; investor sentiment is still low, and outside investors are being put off by their experiences here previously. Al Malik says the government is working on new laws and regulations to govern the market. As the lawyer on the panel, Davidson says that the legal framework is “a work in progress”. Legislation is always retrospective, even in markets such as London and New York, he adds.

An audience member asks the panel whether he should invest in Dubai real estate or an emerging market like India or Brazil? It’s an interesting one.

“Come to my office and I’ll tell you,” laughs Al Malik.

Davis says there are several things to bear in mind – whether you are a short-term or long-term investor, the level of funding available. Lutfi says that at the end of the day, it’s the investor’s decision, and you have to go with what you know.


With the panel now seated, Andrew Neil is asking about the general state of the UAE market. Shahab Lutfi says that his firm is positive about next year, but that in order to sell successfully – you need to have a story. Khalid Al Malik, CEO of Dubai Properties, says that the real estate industry is a vital part of the economy’s infrastructure. “If you take the history of Dubai from the 1970s to now, that will be a fair assessment – but if you only judge it from the last two years, you are making a big mistake,” Al Malik points out.

Colliers CEO John Davis says that the Dubai market hasn’t hit the bottom yet, and the equilibrium will not be there “for a while”. Valuations are still falling at a rate faster than one would expect, he says. Davis says that there are three million square metres of commercial space coming online, all of which are going to stand empty. (For the full story, read: Dubai can't kick building habit.)

Davis equates that space to 75 empty towers along Sheikh Zayed Road, which puts things into perspective somewhat. Jonathon Davidson says that Dubai is midway through a regulatory process, which is still two or three years away from completion.  


Mulchandani is now taking questions from host Andrew Neil – he says that his experience in jail has shaped his life – but he wouldn’t want to go through it again. No surprise there.

“I don’t blame anyone,” he says, adding that the legal process he went through would have taken 10 years to complete at home in India.

Neil asks him what makes him so sure property prices have reached bottom. Mulchandani says prices have increased in the first quarter in certain select locations.

“I don’t see prices moving up quickly, but a bottom has definitely been reached”. 

A member of the audience asks about which specific segments are faring well. Mulchandani says that he is focusing on the freehold sector, and that there is obvious supply in commercial space. A year ago, there was no buyer for office space, but in the first quarter, his company has been able to sell 40,000 square feet of commercial real estate at a ‘fair’ price.

“Some may call it distressed, I’d call it ‘fair’,” he smiles. “There was a time you could throw a dart at a map of Dubai, and wherever it landed you would make money."

It’s all about location, location, location, he tells delegates.

With that, Mulchandani leaves the stage, but we’ll be continuing with the real estate sector via a panel discussion up next. Taking part in this panel is Khalid Al Malik, CEO of Dubai Properties, Shahab Lutfi, CEO, H&H Developers, Jonathon Davidson, founding partner of Dubai-based legal firm Davidson & Co and John Davis, the CEO of real estate consultancy Colliers.

Live blog continues on next page


Mulchandani says residents are continuing to flood to Dubai from other emirates. “There is still demand for high-quality units here,” he says. “We haven’t had any quality residential supply since 2008.”

Keep in mind too, he adds, that real estate cycles in mature markets tend to last around seven years, so to around 2014, which he says will be an important date.

“My confidence in the future is founded on fact, and grounded in experience.”

His firm has sold 64 units – 60 percent of the total - in the last few months.

“The lines at the Land Department are once again long and can take a few hours,” he says. “I believe psychology rather than fundamentals are what is holding the property market back – maybe it’s the fear factor. More mature markets are accustomed to upturns and downturns, so they are more psychologically prepared.” 

Bold words, and there may be a few who will disagree with him. He says Dubai is in the middle of unreasonable pessimism. He says the offplan recovery will return in the third quarter of 2012, although with certain caveats in terms of transparency between buyers and sellers. 


Mulchandani says that the investors that took him to court tried to make him “the fall guy”. He adds that his own life is much like the property cycle; it’s cyclical. So where are we now in the Dubai cycle? We’re at the bottom, he says.

Mulchandani says there are clear opportunities for success in the local market, which is helped by increasingly mature regulation. His new company, SKA1, is focused on taking on almost-complete or complete projects, and ensuring management and timely completion. The firm has bought towers in JBR (AED140m) and Dubai Marina (AED300m) this year, and the executive says that it will be spending AED1bn this year.


Next up is Kabir Mulchandani, who was exonerated by three Dubai courts over allegations of fraud relating to his old company Dynasty Zarooni, which at one time had $6.8bn worth of real estate projects. Mulchandani says that Dubai pre-crisis seems like “a lifetime away”. The full story of his experiences can be read here.  


The minister says that the UAE’s policy of diversification has been vindicated. The government is targeting industries, trade and tourism as the sectors that it will focus on over the next five years. Downstream, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and auto parts will be worth 15 percent of GDP by 2020. Interestingly, the country is also targeting 15 million tourists by 2020 – up from 9 million today. It’s a tall order – as he says.

“We have the ability to do it, but we need to work a little bit and focus on that.” After concluding his speech, Al Mansoori leaves the stage to applause.


Al Mansoori cites the importance of the private sector in the development of the country, especially as it positions itself as the gateway to the MENASA region. He announced that the Ministry of the Economy has 19 new laws to enhance the UAE economy, including legislation for SMEs.  He says that the decline in the real estate market caused the government to look round to see which sectors the UAE need to focus on.

“We had to analyse our strength in these different sectors,” he says. “How do we build our strengths to be able to gain the momentum to be able to offset the decline in other sectors.”


The minister adds that the last couple of years have been an opportunity for the government to strengthen communication channels with the business sector.  Now for the numbers. Al Mansoori says that UAE GDP this year will grow by 3-3.5 percent - a prediction that chimes with a recent forecast from Business Monitor International - with inflation at 1-1.5 percent. 

He says the country saw $255bn in exports last year – the world’s 14th largest economy in that regard – passing India and Brazil. It is also the 18th largest importer, with $170bn worth of merchandise, or1.4 percent of the world’s total.


And now, with our first speech of the day, is HE Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansoori, the UAE’s Minister of Economy.  Starting with a more optimistic note than our host, the minister says there is “still room for optimism.”

Al Mansoori says the Gulf has been blessed with thoughtful and wise leadership, and that the region will continue to develop.

“We need our friends from Europe, Asia and US to come and assist and help us, because I believe this a location of stability within the region and indeed the world. The UAE has demonstrated its ability to sustain economic momentum despite the global turmoil and slowdown in some parts of the region. As a federation of several emirates, UAE has remained the best example of stability in the Arab world.”


And we’re off. ITP chairman Andrew Neil welcomes the guests to “an event that is becoming part of the established scene in Dubai”. He kicks off with a brief assessment of the threats to the global economy, and focuses on the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

“You have the emergence of a two-speed economy in Europe, and that’s a huge dark cloud hanging over the global economy,” he says.

 The picture is not particularly rosy on the other side of the pond either – with the US now sitting on a debt pile of $14.3 trillion, and no fiscal deficit reduction plan.

“It is the emerging markets that have pulled the world economy out of recession…and yet in China and India there are high degrees of inflation, and that too is beginning to soften economic growth,” Neil says.

So where does that leave this region, he asks? The Arab spring has put a lot of economic development on hold, and the repercussions of those actions are awaited. Excluding oil, the entire MENA region’s GDP is worth less than Spain, despite that country having only 40m people against the region’s 260m.


Welcome to the Armani Hotel in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, where Arabian Business is holding its fourth Forum. I’m Ed Attwood, and I will be blogging the event – which will discuss the state of the UAE economy - all the way through until 5pm. And what a line-up we have for you. 

First up is HE Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansoori, the UAE’s Minister of Economy. He will be delivering the keynote speech at 10.45 after a short introduction by ITP chairman and former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil. 

After that, we will hear from Kabir Mulchandani, the former head of Dynasty Zarooni. At 11.45, there will be a panel discussion on the property sector, featuring Khalid Al Malik, the CEO of Dubai Properties Group, Jonathan Davidson, the founding partner of the Davidson & Co legal firm, and other experts.

Osman Sultan, the CEO of du, will be joining us at 12.30 to provide us with his take on the UAE’s growing telecommunications sector. And after lunch, Mohi-Din BinHendi, the president of BinHendi Enterprises, will be speaking about the retail industry in Dubai, which has seen strong growth figures in 2010 and in the first quarter of 2011.

At 2.40, a panel of experts including Petrochem CEO Yogesh Mehta and Rothschild managing director Paul Reynolds are set to take part in what promises to be a fascinating discussion entitled, ‘The Real State of the Economy’.

Royal Jordanian CEO Hussein Dabbas will be flying in from Amman to talk about the regional aviation sector – a particularly hot topic right now – at 3.45.

And last, but by no means least, we have one of the hemisphere’s top banking executives rounding things off at 4.20. V Shankar, the Dubai-based CEO of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Americas for Standard Chartered Bank, will be providing us with the outlook of the local financial sector – one of the UAE’s most important industries. 

We'll be bringing you all the breaking news and pictures from the day, so don't go anywhere!

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