|Landmark Hotel, London|
Last Thursday I attended several of the sessions of the GCC-British Economic Forum organized by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce at the Landmark Hotel. The Forum was opened by Prince Andrew and there were keynote speeches from Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council ("GCC") and Prince Saud Bin Khalid Al-Faisal, Deputy Governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). For the rest of the day there were discussions on energy, investment in infrastructure, financial services and tax.
I found the first session on sustainable energy was the most interesting. For the last 100 years the world has looked to the Gulf for petroleum products but the oil stocks will not last for ever. One of the businesses planning for when the oil runs out is QSTec (Qatar Solar Technologies). QSTec, which is part of the Qatar Foundation,
"aims to be a fully integrated solar energy company that operates across the solar value chain. Starting with the production of high quality polysilicon, QSTec will expand along the value chain into ingots, wafers, cells modules and applications. Its high quality solar products and services will be used locally and exported globally to meet the growing needs of the global solar industry."The company was one of the sponsors of the Forum and Dr. Khalid K. Al-Hajri, its chair and CEO spoke at the dinner. Every guest received a goody bag from QSTec consisting of a solar powered battery charger and a bound notebook.
QSTec is developing new solar technologies in Doha in collaboration with the universities that are clustered in Education City and the businesses in Qatar Science and Technology Park. The company is already exporting its products around the world In time, it will no doubt build up an impressive portfolio of licensable technologies. Intellectual property will be crucial to businesses like QCTec not just in Qatar but also in the rest of the Gulf, yet it was barely touched upon in any of the discussions.
The good thing about the Forum was that discussion focussed on Arab investment in the UK as well as British investment in the GCC but the emphasis on energy, infrastructure, banking and tax seemed backward looking rather than forward thinking. Education City is not the only centre for research and development in the region. Saudi Arabia has the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (see my article "Saudi Arabia: King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology" 6 Sept 2014), Dubai has its Knowledge Village and so on. We in the UK and indeed the rest of the world will want to use and develop this technology. This should certainly be a topic for any future Forum.
Another topic upon which I had expected more discussion was the political and legal infrastructure. The only time it came up was when one of the speakers remarked that investment was happened by political and legal uncertainty. In the Q & A I pointed out that Dubai and Qatar had both established English speaking common law courts in their financial districts in order to give foreigners sufficient confidence to use the local financial services industries and that there was no reason why investors in other industries could not opt for QFC or DIFC law and submit to the jurisdiction of those courts in their contracts. It should not have been left to a speaker from the floor to bring these important institutions to the Forum's notice.
Overall it was an interesting day and I met a lot of interesting people from the Gulf and other parts of the Middle East North Africa region. I hope that there will be another Forum but that it will be more forward thinking next time. Should anyone wish to discuss this article or business with the GCC generally he or she should call me on +44 20 74 04 52 52 or use my contact form.