Opportunities in the Middle Kingdom
One area of economic activity that does not easily fall victim to the vagaries of the domestic market is international trade, particularly between the Gulf and China. Between 2005 and 2013 the value of goods being sent between the GCC and the Middle Kingdom rose from $33.8 billion to $165.3 billion, according to the UN’s Comtrade.
That ought to represent a substantial opportunity for UAE banks, although they have been quite tentative. In 2012, Emirates NBD opened a representative office in Beijing and National Bank of Abu Dhabi opened one in Shanghai, but there has been no sign of any fully fledged branches to date. As the political and commercial capitals of China, these two cities are the obvious entry points for international banks, but Emirates NBD is relatively unusual in its choice – most Gulf banks opt for Shanghai, including National Bank of Kuwait and Qatar National Bank. In the other direction, the likes of Agricultural Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and Bank of China have all opened branches in the Gulf – and they almost always opt for Dubai as their first port of call.
Although the value of trade between China and the UAE has been growing rapidly, there is a substantial and persistent trade surplus in the UAE’s favour due to its oil exports.