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Capital Markets

Financial centres: Can the Gulf bridge the gap?

Ambitious plans for international financial centres in the Gulf states of Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain that would be hubs for financial services in a broadly defined region are still a long way off being fulfilled. Dominic Dudley looks at the likely outcomes.

THE SPEECH BY Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the launch of the Dubai International Financial Centre in February 2002 was typically ambitious. The then crown prince, now ruler, of Dubai, told his audience that the DIFC would be "a bridge for financial services between our region and the international markets", in effect providing a new link in the chain of global financial hubs.

Perhaps wisely, however, he did not say just when Dubai would be seen as the equal of Tokyo, London or New York. Since then, the emirate’s economy has gone through a severe dip and several other nearby states have made it clear that they too want to be the financial link between the Gulf and the wider world.

The plans of Qatar and Bahrain were crystallized in 2008 with the release of two official reports. In July of that year, the Qatari government published its National Vision 2030 – a development strategy that included creating a diversified economy that could act as "a regional hub for knowledge and for high value industrial and service activities".

Two months later Bahrain, which has had a sizeable banking industry for decades, published its Economic Vision 2030, which talked about becoming a "global contender" in which "our financial sector will remain our economic engine".

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