Gulf relations: going well but could be better

5 September 2012

Principal speakers and guests at the Sydney World Program Gulf Forum
Principal speakers and guests at the Sydney World Program Gulf Forum

Australia's "doing well but could do better" relationship with the Gulf was put under the spotlight at a Sydney World Program Forum at the University today.

The forum - on Fostering Relations and Sharing Expertise - brought representatives from 11 Gulf universities and institutions to Sydney, to hear a succession of keynote speakers stress the need for closer links between the two regions.

Michael Yabsley, chief executive of the Australia Gulf Council, called for an end to the culture of "suitcase bankers" - expats who were only prepared to make a temporary commitment to the region.

"We need to do better than that," he said. "Being a suitcase banker or a suitcase builder or a suitcase telecoms provider will only take us so far."

Opening the forum, University Provost Professor Stephen Garton said the bilateral relationship with the Gulf was crucial for both New South Wales and Australia.

He said Sydney had more than 200 students from the Gulf, but the relationship went far deeper than just student enrolments.

"There is much more that we and other Australian universities could be doing to drive the innovation agenda that will enhance the economies of both regions," he said.

Mark Paterson, director general of NSW Trade and Investment, said the Gulf was one of the fastest growing regions in the world and represented a huge opportunity for NSW and Australia.

Bilateral trade had grown by 151 per cent since 2005/6, he said, but there was still huge growth potential, particularly in food and processed food exports.

Lynette Wood, a Sydney graduate who is now assistant secretary of the Middle East branch at DFAT, said the Gulf was of great strategic importance to Australia, and the region faced a major political challenge to manage the ramifications of the Arab Spring.

She talked about the changes being made in parts of the region such as the United Arab Emirates, where 63 per cent of income is now derived from commerce and tourism despite the country's huge oil reserves.

But other challenges remain, such as the need to increase private sector employment. In the UAE and Qatar, only 1 per cent of the population is employed in the private sector.

She also quoted the "shocking statistic" that Saudi Arabia will need to become a net importer of oil in 20 years if present levels of consumption are maintained.

The forum later split into a series of workshop sessions to discuss areas of mutual interest including energy, food and water security, and health.

Contact: Richard North

Phone: 02 9351 3191

Email: 3124123a2c075c6517380825091304330d010f1b17041533410541