MENA economies: Positioning for a new world (dis)order 16–17 September 2017

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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is facing the challenges of a new world order shaped by geo-economic and geopolitical shifts in the United States, Europe and Asia, as well as at a regional level. The second IISS Bahrain Bay Forum brings together a distinguished panel of officials and experts who will analyse the implications of the changing geopolitical landscape for economic, energy and trade policies, as well as for business strategy. Against the backdrop of a more competitive landscape and impending macro-economic challenges, the Forum aims to suggest ways in which governments can formulate effective domestic policy responses on structural reforms, as well as resource mobilisation strategies to accommodate large deficits and development financing needs. On the external front, it will identify possible approaches to harness the benefits of geo-economic shifts in Asia – notably China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India’s economic rise – by reshaping strategic relations with these key economic partners.

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19.00 – 20.00 Opening Reception

20.00 – 22.00 Keynote Address and Opening Dinner

Dr Christof Rühl, Global Head of Research, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority; former Group Chief Economist and Vice President, BP


8.30 – 10.00 First Plenary Session


Sweeping changes in the political landscape across the US and Europe have given rise to populist demands for a protectionist trade agenda and inward-looking economic policy management; precipitated the United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit’ vote; and impacted the regional political landscape. These global developments, along with recent regional tensions, could reshape the future of the trading system and have serious implications for the global and regional economic outlooks, affecting the business environment. At the same time, policy uncertainty prevails amid changing global macro-economic and financial conditions. Panel participants will assess this emerging new (dis)order and its associated risks, and discuss the outlook and implications for economic policies and corporate behaviour at the regional and global level. Questions to be addressed include:

  • What is the outlook for trade and the economy in the US, UK, EU and key emerging markets amid policy uncertainties?
  • How are businesses and multinational companies coping and mitigating risks amid heightened uncertainty about trade, geopolitics and market conditions?
  • Has the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) lost its safe-haven status amid elevated political risks?


  • Mr Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister, Sweden; Member of the Council, International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Prof. Gao Haihong, Director, Research Center for International Finance, Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
  • Mr John Knight, Executive Vice President, Global Strategy and Business Development, Statoil
  • Prof. James Steinberg, Professor, International Affairs and Law, Syracuse University; former Deputy Secretary of State, United States

10.00 – 11.30 Second Plenary Session


The oil and gas market is undergoing profound structural changes, which will determine the path for prices amid greater volatility. The outlook for industry and investment is also directly affected by the US administration’s energy policy, aimed at boosting US shale production, and recent decisions that will undermine the climate change agenda and commitments to the COP21 emissions targets. The panel will explore the outlook for the global oil and gas market, as well as renewables, and discuss what adjustments regional countries are making to cope with such changes. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How will new US energy policies impact global oil and gas markets, as well as the investment outlook for national and international oil companies? And could recent tensions undermine the coherence of OPEC actions?
  • What are the implications of a possible reversal in climate change commitments, and how can these be avoided?
  • How are MENA oil and gas exporters positioning their sectors and reshaping strategies and policies in response to a more volatile market? What should they do differently to promote green growth?


  • HE Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Oil, Kingdom of Bahrain
  • Mr Neil Atkinson, Head, Oil Industry and Markets Division, International Energy Agency
  • Dr Simon Buckle, Head of Climate, Biodiversity and Water Division, Environment Directorate, OECD
  • Dr Ken Koyama, Managing Director and Chief Economist, Strategy Research Unit, Institute of Energy Economics, Japan

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11.30 – 12.00 Coffee Break

12.00 – 13.30 Third Plenary Session  


Against a backdrop of shifting global and regional geopolitics, as well as continued structural changes in commodities markets, MENA countries are pressed to meet growing socio-economic challenges by focusing on domestic reforms, while learning from international experiences. A reform agenda aimed at diversifying the economic base and raising productivity will seek to reconfigure the role of the state in the economy, build human capital with a view to raising productivity, and ensure an enabling framework for private-sector growth. The panel will assess the progress of reforms and implications for political risks, and draw on the experiences of different countries to ensure sustainable diversification outcomes. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How has reform progressed in MENA and GCC countries? Has it raised the level of political risk? And to what extent are recent GCC tensions likely to affect further progress?
  • What key policies and initiatives should be used to strengthen the non-oil growth drivers and encourage the private sector to expand its own contributions to growth and employment?
  • What can the GCC learn from the experiences of Mexico, Indonesia and Malaysia, which managed to diversify successfully?


  • HE Mr Amr Al-Garhy, Minister of Finance, Arab Republic of Egypt
  • Dr Ibrahim Babelli, Acting Deputy Minister for Sectoral Development, Ministry of Economy and Planning, Saudi Arabia
  • Dr Aasim Husain, Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, International Monetary Fund
  • Dr Nasser Saidi, founder and President, Nasser Saidi & Associates; former Minister of Economy, Lebanon

13.30 – 14.30 Executive Lunch 

14.30 – 16.00 Fourth Plenary Session


The investment landscape is becoming more competitive and developing countries have become the largest source of foreign direct investment, outperforming developed economies. MENA countries are aggressively tapping into debt capital markets and chasing portfolio investors in order to attract fresh capital, as they attempt to divest public-sector assets and open up the capital of strategic entities, particularly Saudi Aramco. Weakening sovereign balance sheets and dwindling intra-regional capital flows also drive the need to attract new and alternative types of foreign investment at a time when rate normalisation and acceleration of growth in the developed world could pull capital away from emerging markets. The panel will discuss the following:

  • What is the outlook for private capital flows towards emerging markets, given the global macro-economic backdrop?
  • What factors are shaping international investors’ strategies for deploying capital towards MENA countries given the changing domestic and international environment?
  • What strategy should countries adopt for mobilising capital and minimising the risk of outflows towards developed markets?


  • HE Mr Khalid Al-Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board
  • Dr Amer Bisat, Managing Director, Head of Emerging Markets Crossover Team and Portfolio Manager, BlackRock
  • Dr Hafez Ghanem, Vice President, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank
  • Ms Janet Heckman, Managing Director, Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

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16.00 – 16.30 Coffee Break

16.30 – 18.00 Fifth Plenary Session 


Geo-economic shifts in Asia are creating opportunities for MENA countries’ external trade and investment policies amid greater policy uncertainty in the West. China’s OBOR is aimed at improving connectivity and integration across a wide geography with high growth potential, and the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will serve as its financing arm. However, questions have been raised about the geopolitical motives behind China’s initiative and the feasibility of several proposed projects. At the same time, India’s accelerating economic growth and its large energy needs are elevating relations with MENA countries to strategic levels. The panel will reflect on how MENA countries can tap into unexplored trade and investment linkages with Asia. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How will OBOR reshape China’s economic, political and military engagement with South and Central Asia, as well as the MENA region?
  • What should MENA countries do in order to maximise benefits from the OBOR initiative and to strengthen their strategic economic linkages and connectivity with Asia?
  • How can the MENA region further its integration with India as the country’s main energy and trading partner?


  • HE Yahya Said bin Abdullah Al-Jabri, Chairman, Special Economic Zone Authority of Duqm, Sultanate of Oman
  • Dr Alicia García Herrero, Chief Economist for Asia Pacific, Natixis
  • Dr Joachim von Amsberg, Vice President, Policy and Strategy, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
  • Prof. Xiang Lanxin, Director, Centre for One Belt and One Road Studies, China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation

18.30 – 21.00 Informal Buffet Dinner