World Economic Forum on Middle East convenes


King Abdullah spoke of 2007 as being the "year of opportunity" and urged participants to think of the "day after peace" and prepare the regional economy for the next phase of economic development.

The UAE delegation is headed by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who is due to address the forum today. The delegation also includes, Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of Economy, Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs and Dr Hanif Hassan, Minister of Education.

Under the theme of "Putting Diversity to Work" the meeting will focus on efforts to accelerate economic diversification at a time of unprecedented regional prosperity. However, the stress lines in the Middle East peace process add an extra sense of urgency for the meeting to deliver a tangible contribution to meaningful negotiations. Despite the complexities in the Middle East the Forum runs the risk of being seen as a largely symbolic meeting of the region’s ‘great and good’ if it fails to contribute to this objective.

During the opening Press conference Andre Schneider, Managing Director, World Economic Forum, highlighted the forum’s role in contributing to peace and stability. "We really need to underline again that all parties have to work together in a determined effort to bring progress," he commented.

One of the co-chairs of the meeting Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chief Executive Officer of Mubadala Development Company, highlighted the increasing prominence of the GCC economies. "The GCC bloc has emerged as the 16th largest economy in the world and we are now becoming players in the world economy."

Similarly co-chair Saeed Al Muntafiq, Chairman of the Board of Tatweer and Chairman of the Board, Young Arab Leaders, emphasised his expectations for the meeting. "I am interested in doing rather than talking and I think focusing on making sure we come out with pragmatic simple steps in terms how we can move the economic agenda is key."

However, the co-chairs collectively downplayed their expectations of contributing to a timetable for regional stability.

In answer to a question from Khaleej Times, Hans-Paul Bruckner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Consulting Group, Germany and co-chair of the meeting stated, "We would over estimate our capabilities I think in this regard and it would be too ambitious to say we can determine the pace of a peace agenda." However, it is the overwhelming regional economic growth that was highlighted by fellow co-chair Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive of WPP.

"Despite political discontinuities economic growth has been extremely strong, it has been relatively well balanced and that counterbalances what is going on elsewhere in the region."

The inaugural day also saw the launch of the Israeli-Palestinian Business Council. "This shows that even if politically people are not on the same border they can collaborate on the business side and there are real opportunities to move that forward" said Andre Schneider. The business council consists of 10 founding members from the Palestinian and Israeli business community.

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