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Qalaa Holdings chairman participates in CEO discussion

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World Cement,

Ahmed Keikal, Chairman and Founder of Qalaa Holdings, has participated in a CEO panel on day 1 of the World Economic Forum to discuss the investment case for the Red Sea region, the barriers to investment and the measures needed to get capital flowing in the region amid geopolitical uncertainty and a collapse in energy prices.

“With low commodity prices, high debt levels in emerging markets, higher interest rates in the US, sluggish emerging-market economies and slower Chinese growth, one could be forgiven for thinking that for the time being there will be no investment in the Middle East and Africa region,” said Ahmed Heikal. “But it is a fallacy that there are no growth opportunities in the region and it is a fallacy that there is no money. What we are lacking is the risk appetite and the skill-set required on the part of the private sector to undertake the type of greenfield projects that the region needs,” he added.

“If you’re an infrastructure investor and have appetite for risk, then there are opportunities and very significant growth potential in regional markets,” added Heikal. “Governments across the region are now entering into a new paradigm, they have come to the realisation that they can no longer do it alone, they must partner with or enable the private sector to take on the large megaprojects that were previously only in the realm of the public sector.”

“We were 3-4 steps ahead of this trend. We knew this to be the case early on which is why we invested in companies like TAQA Arabia, the largest private sector energy distributor in Egypt which is now looking at numerous growth opportunities as a result of the deregulation of the energy sector. Our long term view was questioned in the beginning but now our strategy has been validated. Governments are now starting to focus on fighting their own battles, dismantling the bureaucracy, playing the role of regulator and letting the private sector do its job. Governments cannot continue to shoulder these funding needs, or else emerging markets will wake up to a large credit crisis in five years” said Heikal.

Addressing the issue of lack of transparency in the region, Heikal explained that important strides have already been made in that respect. “The Development Finance Institutions (DFI’s), Export Credit Agencies (ECA’s) and Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF’s) that are now funding projects in the region are requiring companies to abide by stricter codes of conduct.”

“You can look at the cup as half empty or half full. Of course there are global headwinds but if you take the optimistic view and look at the cup half full you will recognise that there has been substantial reform across the region particularly in Egypt and KSA but the results of this effort will not be felt for another five years,” said Heikal.

Heikal also stressed on the importance of education and developing human capital. “The divide between rich and poor is continuing to widen globally and it is particularly pronounced in our part of the world which is why it is incumbent upon investors to bring in and train the best talent they can find.”“We must look across the investment spectrum and open the door for smaller projects as well as large infrastructure investments. SME’s and microenterprises will also be key for economic growth in the region,” said Heikal.

Adapted from press release by

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