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Salalah Forum shows pathway to GCC economic diversification

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Under the auspices of Qais bin Mohammed al Yousuf, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion, the conference “Economic Diversification in the Gulf Countries: Between Prospect and Reality”, was opened on Tuesday in the Millennium Resort at Salalah and continued its deliberations yesterday.

The conference, which is sponsored by Smart Investment Gateway (SIG), Roya Newspaper, and the Regional Program Gulf States at Konrad-Adenauer- Stiftung (KAS), a German Think Tank, discussed yesterday three topics: The future visions of the Gulf States and economic diversification efforts; mechanisms for achieving economic diversification in the GCC countries; and the role of public policies in enhancing competitiveness and attracting local and foreign investments. Today, the conference will discuss the global rapid changes and the future of economic diversification in the Arab Gulf States.

The speakers of the conference are coming from all the GCC countries, in addition to Germany, Italy, Britain, and Switzerland. They are academics, experts in economy, practitioners and policymakers. The conference also attracted the business community in Oman and attended by representatives from Arab think tanks.

In his welcoming remarks, Hatem bin Hamad al Taie, Member of the State Council and the editor-in-chief of Al-Roya newspaper, emphasized the importance of economic diversification in order to face the challenges that may result from the fluctuations of the oil prices especially that the income of the Gulf States is mostly coming from oil. He also stressed the importance for the Gulf countries to build an economic model that invests in the future such as projects related to digital sectors and services, tourism, distinguished education, production and labor-intensive factories, and technical projects related to the outputs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In his turn, Dr Yousuf Hamad al Balushi, the founder and Chairman of the board of directors of SIG, stressed in his opening remarks, the importance of the timing of the conference. He said “the conference is taking place at an important period that comes between a sharp decline and a significant rise in oil and gas prices, between a complete closure and openness in economic activities, between inflation and stagnation, and between geopolitical changes in the region and the world.”

He also informed the participants of the conference about a project he is leading in cooperation with KAS to create a platform that measures the economic diversification in the Arab Gulf States, which will include statistics and indicators for comparing the level of diversification of these countries.

Simon Engelkes, a policy advisor for the Middle East and North Africa at KAS explained in his remarks the roots of KAS, its affiliation with the German Christian Democratic Union, and it is work in the Gulf region. He said: “We are proud to be the only Germany foundation working on and in the Arab Gulf States since 2009” adding that KAS’s “work in the GCC countries particularly focuses on accompanying the socioeconomic transformation and modernization processes that have taken off in the region - including the efforts on economic diversification.”

He also added that KAS aims “at creating multinational dialogue platforms for discussion and knowledge transfer between stakeholders in the region as well as with Germany and Europe in order to strengthen mutual trust and understanding.”

Following the opening remarks, the conference began with a keynote speak provided by Dr. Bassam Fattouh, the director of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES) who presented a paper entitled “Gulf Oil Exporters’ Transition Policies.” Rather than shifting away from oil, Dr. Fattouh argues for the need of the Gulf States to invest in renewable energy and for making the fossil oil more competitive in future markets by investing as well in decarburization techniques. His argument was supported by Dr Giacomo Luciani, Professor at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs, and the University of Geneva, who presented a paper under the name “The consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy and the diversification of the GCC economies.”

Following the keynote speech, the sessions of the conference started. In the first session fours speakers addressed the topic “Future Visions of the Gulf States and Economic Diversification Efforts.” They are HH Dr Adham al Said- Founding Partner of The Firm for Business and Economic Consulting and Assistant Professor at the College of Economics & Political Science at Sultan Qaboos University. He presented a paper on “The Role of State-Owned Enterprises in Oman’s Economic Diversification Efforts.” Dr Asaad Alshamlan - Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for European Studies at Prince Saud Al Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies. His paper was on “Economic Diversification in Vision 2030: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Dr Abdulsamee Albahbahani, CEO of Qamar Al Kuwait Petroleum Services Co., who spoke about “Economic Diversification Conflicts: Kuwait Case History.” Finally, Dr. Frank Himpel, Full Professor and Founding Director of the Institute of Logistics at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Germany, presented a paper entitled “Economic Diversification in the Gulf States - Causes and Effects: A view on the Gulf States with a focus on Oman and Qatar.”

In the second session that addressed the Mechanisms for Achieving Economic Diversification in the GCC Countries, Dr Ahmed al Mawali, an economic adviser and a former adviser at the World Bank in Washington spoke about “Prospects for Oman’s Economic Diversification.”

Mohammed Baharoon, Director General and co-founder of the Dubai Public Policy Research Centre (b’huth), talked about “The Geostrategic Implication of Economic Diversification: The UAE Experience.” Farah al Qawasmi, Researcher at the Gulf Studies Center, Qatar University, spoke about “Prioritizing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Pursuit of Sustainable Development.” And finally, Dr Giacomo Luciani presented a paper on “The consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy and the diversification of the GCC economies.”

The third session addressed the Role of Public Policies in Enhancing Competitiveness and Attracting Local and Foreign Investment. In this session, Dr Steffen Hertog, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, spoke about “The new oil boom, a changing social contract, and the outlook for diversification.” Dr. Omar al Ubaydli, Director of Research at the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International, and Energy Studies (Derasat), presented a paper on “How an open data policy would improve GCC competitiveness.” Dr Shamsa Masoud Nasser Al Sheibani, Economic Expert in the Sultanate of Oman, talked about “Role of Public Policies in Enhancing Innovation and Sustainable Entrepreneurship.” And Dr Atef Elshabrawy, Economic Adviser to the World Bank, Expert on Innovation, MSME Finance and the SDGs, spoke about “Economic Diversification in GCC Countries: Opportunities and Challenges.”

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