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Kuwait revisits plans to transform into business and finance hub
March 20, 2018, 5:32 pm
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Kuwait is revisiting plans to transform itself into a regional business and finance hub that haven’t moved beyond a blueprint for more than a decade. And, at a time when the region is awash with similar visions, officials say theirs is different.

The focus for the Gulf’s third-largest oil exporter will be on northern regions, where developments could serve neighbouring Iraq as it seeks to recover from conflict, and even Iran, Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the eldest son of H.H. the Amir of Kuwait and first deputy prime minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. The proposals include a new city, an international stock exchange, hotels and resorts, and a new refinery.

Along with other Middle Eastern economies, Kuwait has cut subsidies and plans to introduce taxes to plug a budget shortfall triggered by lower crude prices and production. But as in Saudi Arabia, the dominant force in the Arab Gulf where the crown prince is leading a push to wean the kingdom off its oil dependency, there’s a recognition that this won’t be enough in the long run. Kuwait is home to one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.

“We had no vision in the past. It was changing” for the sake of change, Sheikh Nasser said in Kuwait City. “Now we are changing for a reason.”

New investment rules and other regulations are expected to be completed this year, said Sheikh Nasser, who’s spearheading the plans. The pace of reform may move slower than in absolute monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, though, because in Kuwait the government must work “with a constitution and parliament,” he said.

Kuwait, often seen as the most democratic of the six Gulf states, has witnessed tumultuous relations between the elected parliament and the government appointed by H.H. the Amir. There have been seven governments in as many years and parliament has been dissolved numerous times.

It has maintained closer ties with Shiite power Iran than many of its Gulf Arab neighbours, and has attempted to mediate their nine-month standoff with Qatar.

Silk City, the most ambitious element of the development plan, is slated to be built in the northeast, and be home to around 700,000 people. There are plans for the world’s tallest building, a national wildlife sanctuary, a free-trade zone and parks. It will be linked to Kuwait City by the Jaber Al-Ahmad causeway currently under construction.

Kuwait also wants to boost the tech appeal of the new economic zone by running a global cable network that will increase Internet traffic and cut the reliance on the link that runs through Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Noura Al-Qabandi, director of international affairs at the country’s telecommunications regulator, CITRA, said in a separate interview.

A mother of two toddlers - Khalifa, 3, and Salman, 1 - Al-Qabandi said the investments Kuwait is making will provide her sons with opportunities in technology, manufacturing and other industries that don’t exist today.

“I see Khalifa in the ICT zone, coding and doing magnificent things,” Al-Qabandi said, “Salman, no. He’s going to be building space voyagers very soon.”

Source: Arabian Business

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