Abu Dhabi: Nexus of global oil, money and power

IT IS not hard to fathom the reasons Abu Dhabi has emerged as the nexus of the global oil and gas equation, the international financial markets and Middle East geopolitics. Abu Dhabi produces 90 per cent of the UAE's 2.5-million-barrel oil production, its Opec quota. The emirate is blessed with almost 100 billion barrels of oil reserves and no less than 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the fourth largest reserves on the planet.

By Gulf Money By Matein Khaild

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Published: Sun 26 Jun 2005, 10:26 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 4:45 PM

As the wealthiest member of the UAE, its ruler is the president of the only successful experiment in government federation in the Arab world. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) is a colossus in the Euromarkets, a major if discreet presence on the Wall Street, the City of London, the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich and the emerging new money bazaars of the Pacific Rim, the biggest and classiest sovereign wealth management agency to ever emerge from the Middle East.

Abu Dhabi's pragmatic and sophisticated foreign policy has given the emirate a voice and access at the highest pinnacles of power in the diplomatic chancelleries of the West. It is impossible to understand recent trends in the Arabian Gulf's economic evolution, energy infrastructure, capital markets, oil pricing and production, security architecture, banking and diplomacy without the strategic calculus of the policies chosen by Abu Dhabi.

It is a testament to the genius of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan that the economy of Abu Dhabi emerged from small scale fishing, pearling and date palm farming in the Trucial States era to become the third largest in the Arab world after Egypt and Saudi Arabia in a single generation. Abu Dhabi is one of the richest emirates on earth and the per capita incomes of it's citizens the highest in the Middle East. It rivals Switzerland, Singapore and Taiwan as one of the most powerful investors in the international capital markets while, in contrast, Kuwait Investment Office and Brunei Darussalam were looted and mismanaged. ADIA has created a new elite of native Abu Dhabian money managers who also serve as directors and chairmen of the leading banks in the UAE.

The Abu Dhabi economic miracle stems from the geological lottery that blessed the emirate with ten per cent of the world's oil reserves but its values in global economic diplomacy are best encapsulated in Shaikh Zayed's fateful remark that Arab blood is more precious than Arab oil. The UAE, a nation barely two years old in October 1973,defied the USA with an oil embargo after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arranged the largest airlift in history to save Israel after the armies of Sadat and Hafiz Al Assad had overrun Zionist positions on the Suez Canal and Golan Heights in the opening moments of the Yom Kippur war.

Almost beneath the radar screens of the international media, Abu Dhabi has given away more money per capita than any oil state in the world. Think about it. Sheikh Zayed founded the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development in 1971 even as the future of the embryonic Federation was in doubt as Qatar and Bahrain opted to become sovereign states, the Shah sent troops to take over Abu Musa and the Tumbs islands, Marxist Leninist insurgencies raged in Dhofar and South Yemen, Britain abandoned it's East of Suez treaties after successive sterling devaluations.

The Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 2004 was one of the great political visionaries and nation builders in modern times, a statesman and architect of economic transformation whose only peer in Asia was Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew. After all, mere possession of oil wealth alone is no guarantee of economic development — note Iraq under Saddam, Indonesia under Suharto and Nigeria under successive military junta kleptocracies. Abu Dhabi Fund for Development has given 30 billion dirham in soft loans and grants to 250 projects in the world's neediest countries with no political strings attached.

The prudent, professional and profitable management of the emirate's oil wealth has got to constitute one of the world's greatest investment success stories. Unlike Iraq, Iran, Libya or Kuwait, ADNOC never expropriated or nationalised its foreign oil concessionaires but actually created a number of joint ventures with the titans of Big Oil — BP, Total, Exxon Mobil — thus ensuring that the emirates retained access to the planets top management talent and oil and gas drilling technologies.

Abu Dhabi plays a transformational agenda in upgrading the energy infrastructure of the Gulf, with it's 7-billion-dollar Dolphin Project, the largest cross-GCC programme in oil and gas. The downstream petrochemical and industrial complex at Ruwais is state of the art in the oil belt.

ADIA has been a de facto pension fund for the emirate but it has the potential to emerge as a Arab Temasek,a proactive agent for change and capital flows in the capital markets and banking systems of the Arab world and the Far East. As the state visit of Singapore Senior Minister Goh suggests, Abu Dhabi can lead the new flow of Gulf petrodollars to the Far East.

Abu Dhabi would be the ideal promoter of an investment bank designed to channel Arab money to the financial markets of the Far East, a project I have thought about since my Wharton Business School days. After all, Abu Dhabi is home to the Arab Monetary Fund as well as ADIA, ADIC and the highest capitalised Islamic bank in the world and has emerged as the financial lifeline of states as varied as Jordan, Pakistan, Sudan and Egypt with its innovative, privatised foreign investment policy.

The Etisilaat stake in PTCL and the Dhabi Group ownership of two Pakistani banks reflects the market orientation of Abu Dhabi foreign economic relations, as does it's stake in the Austrian energy firm OMV.

I was so touched that Abu Dhabi instructed it's Red Crescent to provide critical care for the civilian Iraqi victims of Fallujah as well as to the Palestinians who lost their homes or their children in the massacres of Gaza and Jenin, gave money to help the WHO assist the victims of polio in Sudan and Egypt.

Yes, Arab blood is more precious than Arab oil. Mark my words: a hundred years from now, the world will remember that an Arabian desert sheikh named Zayed bin Sultan once lived among us and changed the course of history with his humane, generous and pragmatic vision of human potential and international relations. The nation and I will honour his memory forever.

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