Arab states work with the world but not with each other, Davos hears

Alain Bejjani said, ‘This region (MENAP) doesn’t work together. It works with the world but not with each other.’ (Courtesy WEF)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Arab states work with the world but not with each other, Davos hears

  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you that only 16 percent of the trade in the MENAP region is within the region
  • Alain Bejjani: We forget sometimes employment is a result of economic growth — you can’t create jobs without economic growth

LONDON: Arab economies need to break down barriers and start to work together if they are to stand any chance of creating the millions of jobs they need to grow, the World Economic Forum in Davos heard.
Regional economies are estimated to have grown by just 1 percent for 2019 as a weaker oil price, geopolitical threats and the impact of global trade wars have hurt output.
But a panel of Middle East business leaders and ministers called for more efforts to break down barriers and slash red tape in order to create the sort of economic growth needed for meaningful job creation.
“We forget sometimes employment is a result of economic growth — you can’t create jobs without economic growth,” said Alain Bejjani, the CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, the Dubai-based retail conglomerate that operates malls across the Middle East.
He said that most global growth was creates through regional trading blocs but that this model had not yet worked successfully in the Middle East.
“If you look at the ASEAN region as an example — it has 56 percent of its trade happening within the region. I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you that only 16 percent of the trade in the MENAP region is within the region. If you take oil out it is less than 5 percent. So in reality this region doesn’t work together. It works with the world but not with each other.”
Bureaucratic processes have also stymied growth according to Majid Jafar, the CEO of UAE-based Crescent Petroleum.
“Registering a company can take more than a year in some countries,” he said. “So how can we make that quicker? Look at what is standing in the way and how can we improve it.”
The Middle East and Central Asia is expected to record 2.8 percent growth in 2020, the IMF said on Monday. That was slightly lower than its October outlook and reflecting the latest move by the OPEC+ group of oil producers to extend supply cuts. It expects the region to pick up speed in 2021 with growth of 3.2 percent.

China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

Updated 04 July 2020

China’s tech titans fight for cloud control

  • Tencent flexes its muscles in race with arch-rival Alibaba as pandemic opens new business frontiers

HONG KONG: For Chinese cloud services companies, the coronavirus outbreak has become a rainmaker, bringing in new business far and wide as firms shift work online, and authorities develop apps and systems to help contain outbreaks and manage social restrictions.

For Tencent Holdings, in particular, it has also become the perfect time to flex new muscles as it seeks to catch up with Alibaba Group Holding, its arch-rival and the dominant player in the country’s cloud market by far.

Tencent began to display a new level of aggressiveness after positioning its cloud business as a major area of growth in September 2018, and that has only amped up amid the pandemic, employees say.

“The competition with Alibaba is so fierce right now, the sales teams are fighting them for every deal,” said a source in Tencent’s cloud division who was not authorized to speak on the matter and declined to be identified.

This year alone, Tencent has hired more than 3,000 employees for its cloud division. And as China went into lockdown and demand for corporate video bandwidth surged in February, it added 100,000 cloud servers in eight days to support a two-month old product, Tencent Conference — a feat the company says is unprecedented in Chinese cloud computing history.

It has expanded use of cloud servers designed in-house, pledged to speed up construction of a digital industry center in Wuhan to handle cloud and smart city projects in central China and joined a central government initiative to support pandemic-hit small businesses with free cloud services.

The social media and gaming behemoth also announced in May it will invest 500 billion yuan ($70 billion) over five years in technology infrastructure including cloud computing — just weeks after Alibaba said it would invest 200 billion yuan in its cloud infrastructure over three years.

Poshu Yeung, vice president of Tencent’s international business group, notes huge interest in shifting further into the cloud from businesses and for online education.

“We actually see more demands, requests coming in,” he said in an interview in April. “It’s a good wakening call for a lot of businesses.”

During the first quarter, China’s cloud infrastructure services market grew an impressive 67 percent from a year earlier to $3.9 billion, data from research firm Canalys shows.

Alibaba commanded 44.5 percent of the market while Tencent, which started its cloud business in 2013, four years after Alibaba, had just 14 percent. Huawei Technologies also had 14 percent.

“Although Tencent came to the space later than Alibaba, I believe the company is willing to endure a relatively long period of investment cycle for this business, hoping to catch up or one day becoming the No. 1 player in this field,” said Alex Liu, tech analyst at China Renaissance.

Tencent’s cloud division accounted for more than 4.5 percent of its annual revenue last year while Alibaba’s cloud computing division accounted for 8 percent of its overall revenue.

Tencent employees have told Reuters the company is working hard to become more adept in business-to-business sales where products are often designed from the ground up for one client, as well as in government relations.

 Those are areas where Alibaba excels while Tencent’s strength lies more with consumer-centric products and design.

“Tencent has great genes in business-to-consumer, but in business-to-business, we either didn’t have product managers or we just hired folks with a business-to-consumer background so it took a bit of time to convert their thinking,” said a second Tencent source in the company’s cloud business.

Tencent declined to comment on staff observations.

One area where Tencent has gained ground in recent years is government contracts — a relatively small part of the market in revenue terms but one that brings prestige and helps attract private-sector clients.

Underscoring its determination to win tenders, Tencent in 2017 offered to complete a Fujian province government information platform project for 0.01 yuan.

From 2016 to 2017, Alibaba scored 28 cloud-related contracts for government entities, state-owned enterprises, and academic institutions, while Tencent landed just seven, government procurement records show.

But in 2018, they secured 28 each before Alibaba took the lead again last year with 49 compared with Tencent’s 46.