The Arab-British Chamber of Commerce connects companies and promotes trade between Arab countries and the UK. Afnan Al Shuaiby, the organisation's secretary general and chief executive, spoke about changing business dynamics in the wake of the Arab Spring during a trip to the British Business Group of Dubai & Northern Emirates last week.
q: How has your office's approach to promoting Arab-British trade changed after the Arab Spring?
a: With the Arab Spring, this is very positive. We're inching away from the political arena. But, from a business level, there's a lot of optimism of what's coming next.
q: Within which business sectors?
a: I think the sky is the limit, and it's more of investing in people rather than sectors. I think there'll be a shift away from the oil, and looking into other sectors. You guys [in the UAE] try to focus on the energy sector. That will remain, but [there is more interest in] the other energy sectors, such as renewables.
q: Expand on what you mean by a shift towards investing in people.
a: In the GCC, more than 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 25, so you want to make sure you're investing in them properly. The governments are moving to investing in people and making sure they get the right education and directing them in the right way so they get proper jobs.
I think as Arab countries we manage very well to educate the new generation. But education is not enough. If it's not combined with good training you can come out being a top student, but if you don't have the qualifications of working, it doesn't balance. We are trying to get UK companies moving towards that, and do executive training.
q: What business interests are there for companies in the Arab region when they look to the UK?
a: The UK has always been a top destination for Arab businesses. The winning sector has always been real estate. Now it's even more than that; there's a lot of communication and projects on education and training. Training is a very big sector that the Arab world partners with within the UK. [There is a] shifting away from the known sectors and focusing on education, training, IT - just knowledge transfer.
q: What do you think needs to be done within this region to further strengthen business ties with the UK?
a: Arab countries need to do more on representing what they have to offer, or what's happening today. Unfortunately, there are a lot of opportunities that are missed just for the fact that they are not represented. Nobody knows exactly what's going on. We have the wider picture. It's our responsibility to focus on what's happening on the ground: how do we support these companies, especially if we look at SMEs (small to medium enterprises)?