RIYADH: Sustainability, renewable energy and the role of women in the economy were on the agenda at the Asia House Middle East Trade Dialogue conference in Riyadh on Tuesday.
In her opening remarks, Lubna Olayan, chair of the Saudi British Bank, which is sponsoring the event, said: “We are standing at a fork in the road of global trade.”
“There were regions or communities that were left behind in the global race for prosperity,” she said, but added: “Domestic demand is growing and it is easier to meet the demand locally.”
There was a global pivot toward emerging markets and China in particular, she said. “The growth of GDP will come from emerging markets.”
Joining the conference from Beijing via Skype was Victor Gao, vice president of the Center for China and Globalization, who said: “China right now is undergoing this epic struggle, coronavirus, and even though we are not out of the woods, the situation is getting much better.”
He discussed the trade war between China and the US, saying that it was “mutually destructive” but “started by the US.”
However, Gao added: “Both the US and China really need to get their act together and put the war behind us.”
One of the panel discussions emphasized the importance of having a diverse workplace that included women. “We are seeing change, but the entertainment sector is pretty much still male-dominated,” said Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, the first female CEO in the entertainment industry in the Middle East.
We are standing at a fork in the road of global trade.
“It’s not about men vs women but it’s about creating diversity. It’s about having the right person in the right role, whether male or female, and creating a balance,” Stanford-Kristiansen said.
Ghada Al-Jarbou, general manager of global liquidity and cash management at Saudi British Bank, said: “What I’d like to see personally are more women in STEM jobs. Under Vision 2030, lots of fields have opened for women that were previously off limits. We want to see more of that and, in the end, it increases the GDP.”
Khaled Al-Dhaher, country managing director of Accenture Saudi Arabia, said: “It starts with leadership, in creating a diverse and inclusive environment. It’s important to drive targets, it’s about bringing value. When there are teams with diverse leaderships, everyone wins. It creates a better environment for everyone.”
Sylvain Cote, senior economist at Saudi Aramco, said: “Oil will remain an important source of energy for at least the next 20 years. We haven’t seen a source of energy replaced by another one, they tend to build on one another. It doesn’t look like it will disappear.”
Lord Green, Asia House chairman, delivered the closing statement, remarking that he had lived in Saudi Arabia for a year in 1978 and loved it. “Riyadh left it’s imprint on me,” he said, adding that it had changed a great deal.
“The city (Riyadh) is 10 times bigger, has the most dramatic architecture in the world, income per head has at least doubled,” he said.