If the pivot to Asia is keeping Westerners awake at night, it's a matter closer to hand for the Gulf Countries of the GCC. Dubai this week confirmed a 2015 announcement to triple the size of the Dubai International Financial Centre, with the government stating that it expects more than half of the growth at DIFC to come from Asia — and from the world of fintech innovation. Bloomberg, which has a bureau in the region, appears conflicted on how to report from Dubai, which has no history of local independent press. Bloomberg greets news of the expansion at the DIFC with the headline What slump? Dubai, it reports, "plans to triple the size of its financial district, adding an area almost the size of London's Canary Wharf, even as the emirate faces slower growth and rising competition from neighbouring banking hubs."
Its more circumspect competitor Reuters casts a colder eye over regional developments, and suggests that Dubai and the GCC are facing major problems, as evidenced by the wave of mergers and a bail-out in December of Sharjah's Invest Bank. Asia, historically a sources of profits for Dubai traders, looms large over the city state which was formerly the premier port in the region, but is now just one of many as dozens of new Chinese-built ports appear from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Djibouti and Greece as part of the Belt and Road project. So Gulf countries are seeing bank mergers as oil prices remain relatively low. Countries including the UAE have been introducing tariffs such as VAT to boost state income, which is having a knock-on effect the cost of business, already high in place such as the UAE. "Analysts expect mergers in the sector to accelerate given a slowing economy, slide in house prices, robust accounting standards and tougher competition," notes Reuters. "There will be pressure on the bigger banks to absorb smaller lenders," said Sabah al-Binali, CEO of Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Universal Strategy. "People were expecting mergers from an economic point of view, but what you are seeing now is perhaps a greater regulatory push to strengthen balance sheets."
Is blockchain still in the sandbox? Perhaps, but Ant Financial is giving us a flavour of how these apparently piecemeal developments could eventually form a network, as it continues to develop blockchain-based remittance services including a service for the Malaysia-Pakistan corridor. Ant has teamed with Telenor its Easypaisa service along with fintech business Valyou to trial the service. "The new remittance service is one of the examples of how emerging technologies can help countries meet their digital and financial inclusion goals. We're thrilled to be part of Pakistan's financial inclusion efforts and we're dedicated to exploring breakthroughs and applying them to benefit more people in more places," said Eric Jing, Chairman and CEO of Ant Financial.
In the years to come, the Ostend ferry story may come to represent a kind of Brexit redux. We've already touched on the British company with no ferries and no experience running a ferry service (known internally here as the Uber of Ferries) that has been awarded fourteen million pounds to provide emergency relief for Dover. Yesterday the mayor of Ostend, the town picked to receive the UK ferry, noted that Ostend would indeed like to have a ferry once it built the infrastructure. "Asked if Ostend would be ready to run regular services by 29 March, he told the BBC: 'No, that's impossible. We are interested in a ferry line... because we have a harbour and a harbour needs traffic. But there are some inconveniences, also some investments to do in our harbour and in the harbour of Ramsgate.'"
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