Posted on Oct 30, 2018
Is the West closing itself off from the world? At first glance, it may seem so.
The US President’s protectionism, sold to voters under the “America First” brand, has sparked a trade war with China – only the country’s biggest commercial partner after the European Union. And in response to the news of a convoy of Latin American migrants headed for the US, Trump has vowed to cut the foreign aid budget – claiming that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners” are among those moving north. Doubtless part of his efforts to rally his supporter base in the upcoming mid-term elections, the move has been decried by charities and human rights organisations.
This side of the Atlantic, countries are also grappling over what stance to take on the outside world. Over the past few years, Europe has seen the rise of populist parties which regard refugees as a threat to its populations’ security, and immigration as a drain on, rather than fundamental part of, its economic wellbeing; even in an age moulded by globalisation, the myth of “fortress Europe” remains a powerful idea to some. And while countries on the continent debate whether or not to raise the drawbridge, the UK weighs up jumping into the moat – leaving behind decades of progress of European integration, retreating into isolation and economic uncertainty.
Some doors are still open
But if we look beyond Europe and America, it is clear that some countries remain committed to embracing the benefits of globalisation.
The United Arab Emirates, for instance, could teach the West quite a bit right now. The country has just made headlines as its passport was newly recognised as the 7th strongest in the world. That is according to the Global Passport Index, which tracks the relative degree of ease of movement across borders. Only weeks ago, the UAE’s passport had already jumped to 8th place in the rankings. This places it alongside Estonia’s, and just behind Poland’s. One more place higher, and the UAE will be snapping at the heels of New Zealand and Australia. Perhaps it is interesting that, just as many politicians in the UK want to curtail their citizens’ rights to freedom of movement in the EU, the UAE is seeing its passport-holders gain greater opportunities to explore and work abroad.
To some extent, globalisation is a product of the highest level. Discussed in the corridors of power, dependent on political will, and ratified in documents such as free trade agreements, it translates into strong diplomatic relations with the outside world. But being open to the world brings benefits that extend far beyond this. Critically, it builds prosperity throughout the wider economy – clamping down on poverty, opening up new job opportunities, and stimulating technological innovation for the benefit of all.
Again, just look at the UAE – which, by opening up to the world, transformed itself in the space of only decades from a subsistence economy based on pearl fishing to a global financial and trading hub. It has proven that being open to drawing talent and labour from a greater pool of human capital serves as a great boost to a country’s fortunes.
It is the country’s industrial backbone – the energy sector – that has grasped this more than most. The oil and gas industry in the UAE recognises that diversity brings innovation; that people from different backgrounds with different experiences can offer new ideas. At the major Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) this November, for example, the industry’s global leaders and decision makers will convene to discuss the values of openness at a dedicated “Inclusion & Diversity in Energy” conference.
This is a message preached from the very top. According to Omar Ahmed Al Qurashi (pictured right), a director at Dubai’s Supreme Council of Energy and a member of ADIPEC’s Energy Advisory Board, “People are vital to any sector and creating inclusive and diverse work places is of paramount importance.
"The UAE is a melting pot of cultures with over 200 nationalities calling it home. The oil and gas sector is a major driver of the UAE – it is only natural that the oil and gas industry should harness the magnitude of talent that is flowing into the country and the industry. ADIPEC’s Inclusion & Diversity In Energy Conference is of paramount importance to bringing everyone together and directing change.”
Loris Tealdi, Managing Director at Eni Abu Dhabi, a concession of the Italy-based energy company, agrees. He notes that the world is seeing “a reshaping of the global order of the past 30 years”, with “geopolitical factors a source of instability” in the energy markets. But at ADIPEC, “one of the most important conferences in the oil and gas industry”, Tealdi still looks forward to seeing “a new wave of cooperation, with new skills delivered in our organisations and in joint ventures with partners”.
In fact, one of the reported goals of Abu Dhabi’s national oil company, ADNOC, is to attract millennials to its workforce. Looking to the future this will be of particular interest – after all, this is a generation which tends worldwide to be more outward-looking than its predecessors. In the UK, it was not Generation Y that voted for Brexit; nor did it put Trump in the White House.
Over the past few years, new political lines in the West have arguably been drawn – not between “left” and “right”, but between “open” and “closed”. Those looking for reasons to keep the doors open would do well to look to the Gulf.
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