Emerging trends in MENA and around the globe
Castlereagh’s Market Monitor collection offers top-tier news and analysis of future trends and buried topics in business, geopolitics, energy, finance and more. Utilising on-the-ground sources and including commentary from some of the region’s top analysts and policy experts, gain a fresh perspective on developments in the Gulf, Middle East, North Africa and further afield.
By launching a subsidiary in Abu Dhabi, Hungary’s Wizz Air has made a statement of intent. Until recently, it was the Gulf airlines looking to invest in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), rather than vice-versa. But Wizz Air has been able to leverage its success on the growing CEE market to look globally. Within CEE, the rise of low-cost carriers like Wizz Air is helping spur consolidation, with more successful flag carriers seeking inorganic growth and economies of scale.
The coronavirus epidemic has put Asian oil and gas demand growth back in the spotlight – this time as a spoiler not the savior it has been in the last three decades. That period had its scares – the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 and the global financial crisis of 2008-09 – but Asian demand could generally be relied upon to buoy growth and bounce back quickly after crises. In the wake of COVID-19, forecasts of an economic rebound in China by mid-year may be correct, but certain structural factors could alter the longer-term trajectory of demand growth. For OPEC and the oil markets, the conditions make for an uncertain 2020.
Morocco has been very successful at enhancing agricultural processing activities through its Plan Maroc Vert, or Green Morocco Plan. The sector has become more attractive for international investments, but issues related to climate change and land fragmentation remain challenges to faster sector growth
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports have made a clear and positive impact on Central and Eastern Europe, improving energy security, lowering prices and decreasing Russian geopolitical leverage. The EU and US are backing billions of dollars of further investment from the Baltic to the Aegean, and MENA suppliers are expected to capitalise on the resulting expansion in capacity. However, there are still bottlenecks in infrastructure development and the outlook for the European gas market is uncertain. The global LNG glut has coincided with price and supply competition from Russia and Azerbaijan. Ironically, LNG exporters may be victims of their own success.
The specter of Chinese geopolitical power rising in the Middle East has raised concerns in the West that as the power and influence of the US – and to some extent its European partners – wanes, China will exercise more influence and control over the oil and gas sectors of the region. Undoubtedly, China’s rise as an economic superpower has earned it a place at the regional table. However, as far as oil and gas is concerned the system of control exercised by Middle East governments is not about to change, while China’s involvement in the region continues to be driven by energy security concerns – not hegemonic ambition.
Technological advances and increased globalization are calling into question long-held assumptions about the use of air power. Non-state actors capable of leveraging new technology – such as cheap precision guided missiles and drones – present a new challenge for air forces of advanced industrial states. Traditional powers must understand these emerging capabilities and the momentary advantages they create if they are to take steps to nullify them.
The popular uprisings associated with the Arab Spring, and recent and ongoing protests in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Lebanon differ in origin, but their underlying causes are similar. The reasons revolt does not lead to real political and economic change are also the same. The fundamental challenge for states in the region is the need to create a productive economy supported by political and social structures that reproduce and expand the welfare of their citizenry. Anything short of that perpetuates rot in the economy and guarantees more unrest and upheaval in the future.
When the divisive Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil a year ago, it raised many concerns about the direction his country would take. The domestic and international business community has been relatively united in welcoming him and his strong free-market inclinations, which remain particularly attractive to foreign investors. For Gulf countries, maintaining good trade relations with Brazil is undoubtedly positive – but Bolsonaro caused controversy across the Arab world when, shortly after taking office, he announced a plan to move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. It took a visit to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar last October – and many new trade deals – for the Brazilian leader to begin repairing relations.
Swathes of under-invested land, a strong tradition of agricultural production, and access to EU markets and funds are draws for investors in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Recent years have seen landmark investments in the region’s agricultural sector, including from food-insecure Gulf countries. But businesses still grapple with fragmented land holdings and patchy infrastructure. This analysis focuses on two neighbouring countries in South-East Europe, Serbia and Romania, which have attracted big-ticket investments from around the globe and face similar challenges.
Rising US tariffs on China and the EU will have indirect impacts on economies in the MENA region over the coming years. These will include stronger energy demand from China, lower global energy and food prices, weaker manufacturing exports to the EU and potentially slower growth in China’s infrastructure investment in the region.
The hydrocarbons sector is increasingly turning to digital solutions to monitor, predict and optimise operations, enabling companies to better insulate themselves against market volatility. The process of digitalisation will create significant vulnerabilities in terms of cybersecurity and data privacy. O&G companies are particularly exposed, and it will take government and industry cooperation to mitigate the risks.
With a strong tradition of technical and scientific education, relatively low cost bases, a strategic location, and growing support from governments and private investors, the tech sector in South-east Europe is a bright spot on the investment landscape. While other industries struggle with politics, bureaucracy and relatively small domestic markets, a growing range of homegrown tech companies and major multinationals are capitalising on the region’s competitive advantages. This analysis focuses on three countries with active and growing tech scenes: Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.