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China-GCC trade expands from goods to financial field

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-02-25 10:58

DUBAI - With the rise in bilateral trade between China and the oil-rich Gulf states, the demand for finance and business know-how are increasing and companies from both sides are jumping on this bandwagon.

"Goods against oil" has been for a long time the formula in trade relations between China and the Gulf Arab region, but this equation gets more and more outdated. Recent events indicate that the Sino-Arabian bound goes beyond tangible goods and enters the world of banking, finance and business consultancy.

The growing financial ties are most visible in the business development of China's biggest bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), which said Saturday that its Dubai-based Middle Eastern branch in 2012 a pre-tax profit of $54 million, up 69 percent year-on-year, while its total assets increased 29 percent to $4 billion.

"2012 was another year of strong growth for us as we continued to benefit from our regional franchise and unique position as a bridge for trade and investment between the Middle East and China, " said Tian Zhiping, the regional CEO of ICBC Middle East.

Since it established its Middle Eastern headquarters in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) in April 2008, ICBC has spread its operational wings to all six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. Last year, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency granted ICBC a license and at the same time the world's biggest lender applied for a UAE retail banking license in order to serve the 200,000 Chinese nationals living in the Gulf state.

Global consultancy McKinsey and Company predicts that bilateral trade between China and the Middle East will reach between $350 billion and $500 billion by 2020, with the Gulf Arab states, most of them major oil suppliers, accounting for the lion's share of the trade.

These projections have recently motivated Asia's largest law firm Dacheng Law Offices from Beijing to enter a partnership with one of Dubai's law firms Hussein Lootah and Associates. When he signed the cooperative agreement on Feb 3, Xiao Jianquan, senior partner of Dacheng Law Offices said that Chinese firms expanding to the GCC mostly demand legal advice when investing in the oil and gas sector and when conducting direct investments into Gulf Arab companies.

Wealthy Arab investors, on the other hand, are eager to invest in the booming Chinese economy, "but they are not yet so familiar with China like they are with western stock markets," said Mohab Mufti, the chief executive of Asiya Investments. Asiya, based in Dubai's financial free zone DIFC, launched a number of private equityfunds that invest in Chinese small and medium enterprises.

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