Gulf ex­ecs want to do busi­ness with Trump

Air­lines wait for view on trade dis­agree­ment

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

DUBAI: Gulf ex­ec­u­tives who were up­set by Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign trail com­ments about Mus­lims took a con­cil­ia­tory tone fol­low­ing his elec­tion vic­tory and said they were open for busi­ness with the United States. In Dubai, boards dis­play­ing the pres­i­dent-elect’s name and his sup­port for a DAMAC project to build a gated com­mu­nity, spa and Trump-branded golf course can be seen from a road on the edge of the city.

Gulf busi­ness links with Trump and other US firms are strong. The United States im­ported $32.4 bil­lion of goods in­clud­ing oil from the six Gulf coun­tries in 2015 and the re­gion is the most im­por­tant client base for Boe­ing and a num­ber of US de­fense firms. The Gulf’s sov­er­eign wealth funds also have hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars of US in­vest­ments.

Nev­er­the­less, Arab busi­ness fig­ures were an­gry about Trump’s cam­paign calls for Mus­lims to be banned from en­ter­ing the United States, fol­low­ing the mur­der of 14 peo­ple in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, by a Mus­lim cou­ple in Dec 2015. Saudi Prince Al­waleed bin Talal, head of in­vest­ment firm King­dom Hold­ing which has stakes in US firms in­clud­ing Cit­i­group and Twit­ter, called him a “dis­grace not only to the GOP but to all Amer­ica”.

How­ever, the bil­lion­aire was among those wish­ing him well on Wed­nes­day, tweet­ing: “Pres­i­dent elect @re­alDon­aldTrump what­ever the past dif­fer­ences, Amer­ica has spo­ken, congratulations & best wishes for your pres­i­dency.” An­other bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man, Kha­laf Al-Habtoor, who worked with Trump on a con­struc­tion project that was halted in 2008, wrote an op-ed in a lo­cal news­pa­per in Au­gust last year back­ing Trump for the pres­i­dency.

But Habtoor back­tracked af­ter Trump’s Mus­lim com­ments and said Gulf money would quit the US if he won. Speak­ing to Ara­bian Busi­ness on Wed­nes­day, Habtoor in­sisted Trump’s com­ments on Mus­lims “were for the elec­tion only” and he would now tone down his rhetoric, some­thing that would open the door to re-es­tab­lish­ing good re­la­tions with the Gulf.

Some Gulf firms re­assessed their links with Trump at the end of last year: DAMAC tem­po­rar­ily re­moved ref­er­ences to his name from ad­ver­tis­ing, and regional re­tailer Land­mark Group pulled a Trump-branded line of home­ware from its Life­style chain of depart­ment stores. But a spokes­woman for DAMAC told Reuters on Thurs­day that Trump-linked projects still car­ried his name.

Mo­hammed Al-Ardhi, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of al­ter­na­tive in­vest­ment firm In­vest­corp, which has bil­lions of dol­lars in US real es­tate and other in­vest­ments, was com­ple­men­tary about Trump. “In­vest­corp knows that Mr Trump is fair be­cause we com­peted against him on the Tiffany ac­qui­si­tion and he did not mind us win­ning that deal,” Ardhi told an in­vestor event on Wed­nes­day, re­fer­ring to its 1984 pur­chase of the New York jew­elry firm.

Gulf air­lines are wait­ing to see where Trump stands on a dis­agree­ment with US car­ri­ers. A group in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Air­lines and United Air­lines say United Arab Emi­rates-based Emi­rates and Eti­had Air­ways, and Qatar Air­ways, have un­fairly ben­e­fited from state sub­si­dies, and have called for a re­view of the Open Skies trade agree­ment with those coun­tries. Some Gulf air­line ex­ec­u­tives had pre­vi­ously ex­pressed con­cerns that Trump could fa­vor US in­ter­ests at the ex­pense of the rest of the global avi­a­tion in­dus­try.

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