Gulf execs want to do business with Trump
Airlines wait for view on trade disagreement
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.