1st EU-GCC Business Forum
Brussels, 23 May 2016
On 23 May 2016, the first EU-GCC Business Forum took place in Brussels, Belgium, in the framework of the EU-GCC Trade and Business Cooperation Facility. With an effort to effectively promote and enhance bilateral dialogue on trade, investment and entrepreneurship related issues, high-level business representatives, led by the Confederation of Danish Industries, BUSINESSEROPE and the Federation of the Gulf Cooperation Council Chambers of Commerce, identified areas of common interest to both European and Gulf Cooperation Council business communities, which are key to the development of the EU-GCC partnership.
The EU and the GCC are important trading partners: The GCC is the EU’s fifth largest export market, and the EU is the GCC’s biggest trading partner, with trade flows that reach €152 billion, or 13% of the GCC’s global trade. In 2015, EU exported to the GCC goods worth €111.6 billion and imported from the GCC goods worth €44 billion. In terms of services, in 2011, trade totalled €36.7 billion. The EU exports of services to the GCC reached €24.3 billion, while exports of the GCC to the EU amounted to €12.4 billion.
Participants agreed that the EU and the GCC need to meet the conditions to further increase their bilateral trade and investments potential, including through the removal of trade and regulatory barriers and the negotiation of a comprehensive EU-GCC Free Trade Agreement.
Economic Diversification and Transformation
Participants identified the need for economic diversification and transformation as the main challenge that the GCC region is currently facing. Building a knowledge-based economy is a step-by-step process that can only be achieved by increasing competitiveness. Enhancing the investment climate, creating a regulatory framework conducive to business, protecting private property, improving access to finance and increasing R&D expenditure are key enabling factors in this procedure. European companies should be encouraged to enter into joint projects with GCC counterparts or single handily in an effort to benefit from and contribute to the process of economic diversification in the GCC region.
In a globalised environment, following sustainable business practices is important and creates competitive advantages. Companies from the EU and GCC can share experiences and enjoy the benefits of sustainable approaches to trade and investments. In this regard, harmonisation of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) framework is crucial. Improving the quality of education is also particularly important, as this is the first step to build a strong, entrepreneurial and innovative human capital.
Enhancing Trade, Investments and Competitiveness
Participants agreed that there is a joint aspiration to enhance trade and investments between the two regions. In order to achieve this, identifying and effectively addressing barriers is essential. Non-tariff barriers especially are very often identified by businesses – Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in particular – as the main stumbling blocks against investments. Opening-up trade can also help businesses participate more actively in Global Value Chains.
Cooperation between the EU and the GCC, both at the level of governments and the private sector, can play an important role in this regard. For instance, experience in the area of standardisation underlines the joint efforts of the two regions to develop a mutual understanding and a harmonised environment for businesses. Similar cooperation should be possible in other areas of the economy as well and participants urged the EU and the GCC institutions to work closely together.
Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Participants agreed that fostering an ecosystem that enables creativity and innovation is essential for the future of the GCC countries. In order to achieve this, it is important to look critically at regulatory reform to provide the needed framework for innovation and entrepreneurship. It is particularly important to look at what constitutes barriers to establish and run a business successfully; effectively lowering the cost of doing business. However, it is by the same token important to ensure that the needed regulation is in place to ensure the protection of basic rights, e.g. intellectual property rights, for innovation and entrepreneurs to flourish.
Enhanced cooperation between the EU and the GCC, both at the level of governments and the private sector, can play an important role in this regard facilitating exchange of experience vis-à-vis support initiatives, networks, and developing clusters. In this regard, the EU and the GCC should explore more systemic channels to establish and increase cooperation between young entrepreneurs, as well as in the fields of research, innovation, transfer of knowledge, education and training, intellectual property rights, standardisation and the development of SMEs. Participants also called for the organisation of more specialised joint events.
The formal dialogue between businesses in Europe and the GCC, as well as between the business and political leadership of the EU and the GCC should be further strengthened. The two regions can jointly address common challenges and enjoy opportunities for growth and development. In this regard, business leaders will be pleased to see their recommendations being taken forward by political leaders and look forward to the continuation of the EU-GCC Trade and Business Cooperation Facility and to further contributing in its successful implementation.