Bridges between London and the Gulf

GCC nations and the City have long-established links, and as the world emerges from crisis, those ties create opportunity, writes Nick Anstee, Lord Mayor of the City of London

Pedestrians are silhouetted in the winter sun, as they walk onto the Millennium Bridge across the River Thames.
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The City of London's relationship with the flourishing commercial centres of the GCC is as strong as ever, but given the challenges and opportunities facing all of us, we would benefit from it being even stronger. That is why I am here in Abu Dhabi and Dubai leading a delegation of bankers, lawyers, insurers, asset managers and consultants - some of whom are already doing significant business in the UAE, while some are still looking at the possibilities - to demonstrate our commitment to the region, to share our experiences and build on our substantial links.

The past three years have not been easy ones for the world economy, and we have all endured the impact of bank failures, falls in the volume of trade and declines in asset prices. London has certainly felt the chill but because it is a centre that is internationally owned, internationally managed and internationally staffed, and is focused on the whole picture of global trade and development, global recovery and readjustment are offering scope for new business.

In fact, one of my aims while here will be to alter any impression that the City is irreparably damaged, with its banks only kept afloat by state funding. It isn't! Intervention by the British government was timely and necessary - and governments in many other parts of the world, including the GCC states, did the same to ensure that the financial system continued to function after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Many of London's banks continue to operate competitively without state aid, and Gulf investors - sovereign funds, companies and individuals - have contributed much of the new capital that the banks have needed. Meanwhile, many other areas of activity remain busy, efficient and competitive - insurance and risk management, the energy markets, securities issuance and trading, and of course business law, accounting and consultancy.

A global economic recovery needs these services more than ever. So we're pleased to see a revival in the issue of bonds, new initial public offerings on the London Stock Exchange and more corporate activity including investment in real estate - especially from the Gulf, and much of it into London's accessible and liquid property market. This is mirrored by the large number of British financial and professional services firms operating in the GCC centres, contributing to the process of diversification and infrastructure development, advising on legal frameworks and, importantly, both employing Gulf nationals and giving them scope to develop their careers elsewhere in their international networks.

There are three important elements to my visit. The first is the increasing shift in the global economic balance towards South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Russia. I'm often asked whether this is a threat to London's position. The answer is no - as long as we remain open to foreign ownership and talent, capable of operating in different markets with different currencies, and with relationships and lines of communication into Europe, our home market, but also across the oceans to the growing centres of economic power. This is why I'm here in the Gulf.

The second backdrop is that of regulation. Nobody with any sense of political reality believes in a return to pre-2008 "business as usual". There will be more regulation. The task for legislators and governments is to ensure that it is the right regulation, designed to deal with emerging risks rather than fighting the last crisis. If it is designed and applied only at a national or regional level - if regulators try to outdo each other in ferocity or undercut each other in their casual approach - we will see regulatory arbitrage and market distortion. Far better to seek convergence and common approaches between the EU and North America, "mature" markets and the fast-growing centres of the Gulf and Asia.

Discussions on regulation will be an important part of my visit. We want to share experience and to look for common structures and common principles. The flow of capital across borders and the maintenance of transparent and efficient markets must be a priority for all of us. Only when those conditions exist can the whole process of global trade and international development be properly financed. That leads me to the third reason: the development of talent and expertise. Tomorrow, my colleagues and I will visit Zayed University and I will have the privilege of addressing and meeting some of the most important resources of all - talented Emirati students, studying a wide range of subjects and preparing themselves for posts in finance, business, government, education and many other areas.

Investment in skills is a priority for us in the UK, and for you in the UAE. A growing world market for financial and professional services needs well-educated young people with strong values and an international outlook. We welcome many of them to London for part of their careers. Listen to the conversation in a City dealing-room as a Lebanese analyst discusses the merits of a Japanese company with a sovereign investor from the Gulf; or in a law practice where a South African lawyer works on structuring a biofuel project in Latin America.

Regulators, too, will increasingly need transferable skills and an international outlook. Future career paths for the students I meet, and their counterparts in the UK, may involve a professional qualification or an MBA, followed by experience at the cutting edge of finance, then a spell at a regulatory authority or in the making of government policy. It is a major priority for me to encourage young people to visit each other's countries; to encourage young Emiratis to regard a spell of study or professional training in London as a natural part of their careers.

London is already a second home for many Gulf families. You are warmly welcome and highly valued. The same applies to your young people. London belongs on their CVs!