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. More Mideast-China investment 'hampered by culture'

by Staff Writers
Dubai (AFP) Sept 3, 2007
Greater investment between the Middle East and China is being hampered by a lack of understanding between the two cultures, a conference in the United Arab Emirates heard on Monday.

The warning came despite trade between the two doubling since the year 2000 and projections of massive investment by some Middle Eastern states in Asia over the next five years -- with most of that money going to China.

"There is a cultural gap that acts as a barrier" to trade, the chairman of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre told delegates at the China-Middle East Investment Forum in Dubai.

Abdulaziz Sager said he feared the lack of a common language as well as a limited knowledge of business culture between both regions could prevent economic ties from developing further.

His concerns were echoed by China's Huang Xiaoxiang, the vice governor of China's Sichuan province, who called for greater interaction.

Huang told delegates that China had to do more to tap liquidity in the Middle East, particularly in the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council states.

The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"There is a lack of effective communication between both sides. We need to tighten understanding of cultural backgrounds and deepen our research on Middle East investment funds," Huang said.

Sager said the oil-rich GCC members in particular will have to increase their cultural understanding of China as the energy- and commodity-hungry colossus looks set to continue its phenomenal annual double-digit growth.

Annual trade between the Middle East and China has doubled to 240 billion dollars since 2000, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) said in a statement.

It added that banks were predicting that GCC states would invest as much as 250 billion dollars in Asia over the next five years, mainly in China.

In March, Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil firm Aramco announced it was undertaking two joint ventures in China worth about five billion dollars, alongside fellow oil giants Exxon Mobil and Sinopec.

And in April two Chinese companies signed a framework agreement to build two aluminium processing plants and related facilities worth nearly five billion dollars in Saudi Arabia.

Nasser Saidi, chief economist at the DIFC, said that he also believes that more needs to be done to bridge the cultural gap between the Middle East and China.

"These are very early days and there is a discovery process on both sides," Saidi told delegates. He urged governments to sponsor more cultural exchanges and encourage business figures to attend more joint trade fairs and conferences.

Sager said the Middle East should rely less on the West in economic and cultural terms and look more to China, which is home to millions of Muslims and has no recent history of interference in the region's political affairs.

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This spring farmers responded to the ethanol industry's demand for grain by increasing their corn acreage by 19 percent over last year, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. What if that happens again next year? What if farmers decide against crop rotations and plant corn on the same fields, year after year? Or, what if farmers begin growing biomass crops such as switchgrass for the production of ethanol from plant fiber?

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