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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Gulf executives stay upbeat

A poll in three countries finds little concern over unrest in the region among senior business executives.

WASHINGTON // Business confidence in the Gulf region remains high despite the revolutions convulsing parts of the broader Middle East and North Africa. And the major concerns of business leaders in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are external macroeconomic shocks rather than domestic political turmoil.

Those are the conclusions of a new Oliver Wyman-Zogby International poll released on Monday and presented in Washington at a reception held by the UAE, Saudi and Qatar-US business councils.

The poll, taken last month, surveyed 164 senior business executives from across sectors in the three countries. A vast majority, 57 per cent in the UAE, 64 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 60 per cent in Qatar, said they saw business conditions as improving in their respective countries. Fewer respondents than last year said confidence was in decline, although here the UAE was the highest at 26 per cent.

The "strikingly high" numbers, said James Zogby, the senior adviser to Zogby International and president of the Arab American Institute, showed that contrary to expectations, the so-called Arab Spring had not dampened business confidence in the region.

In fact, the poll also found that 65 per cent of the chief executives and chief financial officers polled in the UAE, 81 per cent in Saudi Arabia and as many as 92 per cent in Qatar expected business conditions to improve over the next two years, indicating that senior business leaders did not expect contagion from events elsewhere to spread to the three countries.

Nevertheless, while the vast majority of the executives polled still saw outside macroeconomic shocks as the biggest threat to business confidence, the poll did find a significant increase in the number of those worried about internal tensions in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

In the Emirates, 10 per cent worried about internal stability, and in Saudi Arabia as many as 22 per cent said they saw this as a threat to business confidence. In both cases, those numbers are up from only 3 per cent last year.

Education and labour reform topped the list of issues business leaders felt had to be given priority. Labour reform, Mr Zogby said, meant access to labour rather than labour rights. Political reform in the three countries was the least of the business leaders' concerns.

"Executives don't feel governments need an election to get to education and labour reform," Mr Zogby said.

Nevertheless, governments did need to look at ways to improve conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises. A majority of respondents in all three countries said they viewed with concern the youth population bulge that is likely to have a significant effect on unemployment in the near future.

business@thenational.ae