The first session was chaired by H.E. Hassan Khodor, Minister of Internal Trade, Egypt, on the topic “Investment in Information Technology” which focused on the many challenges facing Arab countries and the effects this has on business and trade competitiveness.
Mr. Khodor said: “After September 11, the world has undergone changes in different spheres, which will reflect on the long-term spending and international investments. One of the challenges facing us today is the digital divide, because development in IT and communications is not balanced.
“The other challenge is the transformation in the way we do business as a result of dramatic developments in communications and information. The advent of e-commerce has taken us to a phase beyond our time,” Mr. Khodor said.
Mr. Ra’afat Radwan, Chairman of Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC), Egypt, presented a paper on “Importance of Information Technology in Economic Modernisation” and explained that enhancing the ability of all to benefit from digital opportunities was the best way to bridge the digital divide.
Mr. Radwan focused on Information and Telecommunications Technologies (ICTs) as the key to benefiting from digital opportunities. “In many areas, properly designed, adapted and implemented ICT solutions can significantly enhance local efforts to improve the delivery of public and private goods and services through the automation, rationalisation and monitoring of repetitive tasks.
“In the process, many complex tasks can be simplified, harmonised and made more transparent to the users, leading not only to efficiency and competitive gains, but also to better governance.”
Mr Radwan called for initiatives such as Arab policy resource networks and virtual policy centres to allow Arab countries to access relevant global expertise, knowledge and the experience of other countries.
Dr. Elias Ghantous Secretary General of the General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries, presented a paper on “The Digital Transformation of the Arab Economies. His paper outlined two key stages the business world has passed through in the last 50 years.
The first was the transformation of local economies by boosting trade with the outside world. The second was the world trying to break trade barriers between regional blocs. Now they have arrived at a new stage, which is the globalisation of trade and investment under the umbrella of the World Trade Organisation.
Dr Ghantous explained that a major obstacle faced by Arab countries in advancing in the digital economy were both internal and external. Internal obstacles included poor infrastructure in communications, and high cost of IT, plus poor use of Internet and e-commerce in business. One of the key external obstacles is that the digital economy is now comparatively new to the Arab World compared to the rest of the world.
H.E Dr. Mohammed Khalfan bin Kharbash, Minister of State for Finance and Industry in the UAE, chaired the second session on “Investment in the UAE”. He said: “The UAE has achieved social, economic and political stability in a short period. This was accompanied by a readiness to meet the demands of trade partners and the UAE has succeeded in the creation of a fully diversified base of production.”
“The development of the UAE economy has been based on co-operation and partnership between government and private sector which has played a key role in development. This has gained the trust of the Government, which is why many projects have been privatised.”
H.E Sultan bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman, Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation in Dubai, speaking about the Free Zone experience in Dubai, said: “The success of the Free Zones in Dubai is demonstrated by the fact that in 1990 there were 200 companies in Jebel Ali Free Zone and today there are 2,157 companies operating there from 98 countries.
“The export/import trade has increased from less than $2 million in 1985 to become $ 10 billion. JAFZ has significantly contributed to the diversity of companies now operating from the Zone because of the flexibility of approach and expansion of the Free Zone to encourage different manufacturing units.”
He concluded his presentation with an invitation to Arab countries to create investment centres to limit the flow of money from the Arab World and instead attract increasing amounts of foreign investment to boost economic development in Arab countries.
Dubai Internet City Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ahmed bin Byat, presented a paper on how the UAE has taken a leading role in the move to a digital economy.
He said: “Currently the UAE stands 22nd in the world in terms of Internet usage and penetrations – ahead of leading economic nations like France and Italy. It was this foundation that helped the UAE to take the initiative to build a strong infrastructure to move to the digital economy.
“It began when HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the creation of Dubai Internet City to make Dubai a new economy hub. The success of Dubai Internet City and its attraction for leading IT companies from around the world has shown how that vision is now bearing fruit.”
Thursday, November 15- 2001 @ 9:48 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.