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 / Autumn 2011 / Issue 64(originally published by Booz & Company)


The New Web of World Trade

An Important Stop on the Road

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — represent one regional powerhouse whose relationships with emerging peers can offer valuable insights into the way such alliances are forming. In the last five years, ties between the GCC and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) as well as the “Next 11” countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam) have expanded strongly. (See map.) The speed with which the new silk road is being constructed between the GCC and these other rapidly emerging economies is a clear indicator of the GCC’s rising importance. Even the recent unrest in the Middle East, which included a few of the GCC nations, has not impeded the Gulf’s global ambitions.

The GCC is also noteworthy because of its traditionally strong relationships with the U.S. and Europe. The Gulf nations have to maintain their relationships with these large but relatively stable economies while fostering new relationships with the high-growth economies in emerging markets. This balancing act could lead to a new set of policies and ambitions in the region, with significant implications for companies that hope to enter this market, and for the nations (which include the U.S., China, Japan, and most of Europe) that compete for the GCC’s oil and gas resources and have a vested interest in ensuring that regional security issues do not destabilize global oil prices.

By analyzing the dynamics behind the growth of the GCC’s alliances with other emerging countries, GCC leaders can see where there could be potholes in the new silk road and what reforms will be necessary to avoid them. At the same time, the companies and governments of Europe and the U.S. can develop a better understanding of what they will need to do to ensure that their own opportunities in the GCC are not lost in the years to come. The primary drivers of the relationships between the GCC and the BRICs and Next 11 countries are trade, people, and capital; equally important, though more difficult to track with data, is the exchange of knowledge and technology.

1. More than oil. The top item on the strategic agenda for every GCC country is to diversify its economy and thus decrease its dependence on oil. Despite significant efforts, achieving this goal has so far proven challenging: Oil and gas accounted for 38 percent of GDP in the GCC in 2000, 42 percent in 2005, and 39 percent in 2010. The governments in the region are eager to continue investing their oil revenues in knowledge-intensive industries that will create jobs for local populations, and they will cultivate trade partners that help them.

This is one major reason that 19.4 percent of the GCC’s trade flows now involve the BRIC countries, compared with just 8.9 percent involving NAFTA countries. And GCC trade flows with BRIC countries are also more diverse than those with the United States. For example, Saudi Arabia’s exports to the U.S. still revolve around oil, whereas its exports to BRIC countries include chemicals, plastics, and minerals. The UAE’s exports to China, similarly, are split among a range of products, led by plastics (28 percent), electronic equipment (15 percent), and vehicles (9 percent).

The GCC’s non-oil exports to the Next 11 countries are also on the rise. Such exports (including chemicals, plastics, and aluminum) from the GCC to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Turkey are still quite small in absolute terms, just $11.6 billion in 2008. However, they increased by 389 percent between 2001 and 2008, an indication of things to come.

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  1. Ian Bremmer, The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (Portfolio, 2010): The potential power of state capitalism.
  2. Economist Intelligence Unit, “GCC Trade and Investment Flows: The Emerging-Market Surge,” 2011: Presents research on the strengthening economic ties between the GCC and other emerging markets.
  3. Gideon Rachman, Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety (Simon & Schuster, 2011): A zero-sum approach to global economics, in which one country’s gain is another country’s loss, is undermining attempts to restart the world’s growth engines after the recession.
  4. Joe Saddi, Karim Sabbagh, and Richard Shediac, “Oasis Economies,” s+b, Spring 2008: Overview of the GCC’s growing economies and the nature of their development.
  5. Joe Saddi, Karim Sabbagh, and Richard Shediac, “The Challenges of Balance,” s+b, Summer 2009: Analysis of the difficulties confronting the GCC’s rapid economic growth.
  6. For more on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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