The Arab British Chamber of Commerce celebrated its landmark 40th Anniversary on the evening of 14th November with a spectacular Gala Dinner attended by over 200 specially invited guests from the worlds of industry, commerce and government.
The Gala Dinner was an occasion to celebrate the Chamber’s unique record of service to the Arab and British business communities over these four decades as well as providing an opportunity to express thanks to all those who have supported the Chamber over the years. Above all the event was a celebration of the close and enduring partnership enjoyed by Britain and the Arab World.
Guests were welcomed by the Rt Honourable Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, the Chairman of the ABCC and Dr Afnan AlShuaiby, the ABCC Secretary General and Chief Executive.
The celebrations, consisting of a reception, formal dinner, speeches and awards ceremony, were held at the historic Banqueting House, which is all that today remains of the old royal Palace of Whitehall, which burnt down in 1698.
The great Palace of Whitehall began as York Place and was the medieval London home of the Archbishops of York. Their residence was taken over by King Henry VIII when Cardinal Wolsey, also Archbishop of York, dramatically fell out of royal favour. The King then proceeded to transform York Place into a magnificent royal palace and renamed it Whitehall. It was to be the principal palace in the capital of the Tudor and Stuart monarchies until it was gutted by fire.
The present Banqueting House was the work of the celebrated architect Inigo Jones who supervised its completion in 1622. Its classical structure was inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. The building was to provide the setting for numerous sumptuous royal ceremonies over the decades. Its enormous and magnificent hall proved to be the perfect setting for the ABCC’s 40th Anniversary celebrations.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by Dr AlShuaiby and the Rt Hon Baroness Symons.
Dr AlShuaiby spoke of the “remarkable progress” in Arab-British relations over the last forty years. Their thriving relationship extended widely into economic, financial, strategic and cultural spheres.
Over the course of its existence, she stated, the Chamber had built an enduring reputation for reliability and integrity in the delivery of essential support services among traders and investors engaged in bilateral commercial activities.
The Secretary General & CEO expressed gratitude to everyone who had remained steadfast and loyal in their support for the Chamber’s work, including the diplomats and government. In particular, Dr AlShuaiby thanked ABCC Chairman Baroness Symons who has brought to her role insight, immense experience and knowledge of both government and business.
She concluded by stating that, “I count myself extremely privileged to lead this organisation which has made a major contribution towards the expansion of UK and Arab cooperation and I wish to pay tribute to everyone who has played their part in the Chamber’s work, including our past and present staff.”
In her opening remarks, Baroness Symons mentioned the key challenges confronting the global economy and the opportunities for developing Arab-British trade.
She welcomed the expansion and deepening of the collaborations between Britain and the Arab world over the years of the Chamber’s existence.
The Chairman praised the leadership of Dr AlShuaiby who over the past decade has headed the Chamber and transformed its performance as a business services provider.
The guests of honour who each delivered keynote speeches were His Excellency Mr Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, His Excellency Dr Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and the Rt Hon Mr Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for International Development and Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
They lauded the growth in Arab-British trade and commended the work of the Chamber in facilitating closer cooperation between the UK and the Arab World. It was a great honour for the Chamber that these most senior diplomats and respected politicians were able to participate in the celebrations held to mark its 40th anniversary.
H E Mr Ahmed Aboul Gheit, one of Egypt’s most distinguished diplomats and senior politicians, has held high office in his country for around 50 years and represented it around the world. He became Secretary General of the League of Arab States in July 2016, making him the leading diplomatic representative and spokesman for the Arab nations. He previously served as Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and has also been its Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
His Excellency addressed “the instrumental role the Chamber could play in further promoting Arab-British relations in the years to come”. He stated, “Four decades may have elapsed since the foundation of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, and yet the core mission of the Chamber, to promote friendship through trade, remains equally valid today as it did throughout the years of its operation since 1975.”
H E Ahmed Aboul Gheit remarked on the strength of the combined Arab markets with their GDP of over $3 trillion, a population of more than 400 million, a total workforce exceeding 130 million, 55% of the world’s proven oil reserves, and foreign currency reserves approaching $1.5 trillion.
Citing several examples of current ambitious Arab initiatives, he explained “how the Arab world, its leadership and its societies are endeavouring to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised world”.
He praised the ABCC’s “instrumental role” in advancing the multi-dimensional partnership that the Arab world enjoys with the UK through its sustained promotion, encouragement and facilitation of trade and commercial relations between the two sides.
He insisted that it was incumbent upon all to further explore the potential opportunities for enhanced trade relations and commercial partnerships between the Arab World and the UK across all sectors.
While the Arab countries may not supplant the UK’s traditional trading partners in the US, Europe or East Asia, they can offer British industries and exporters additional opportunities, H E Ahmed Aboul Gheit stressed. “I am confident that the Chamber will continue to fulfil its mandate of promoting Arab-British relations, underpinned as it is by its mantra of friendship through trade.”
The second keynote address was delivered by H E Dr Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the GCC. In post since April 2011, he serves as the Gulf’s most senior diplomat and persuasive advocate. H E Dr Al Zayani has remained a loyal friend of the Chamber for many years.
In a distinguished career, Dr Al Zayani has had a successful record of service to Bahrain in the fields of security and diplomacy. He was first a commissioned officer in the Bahrain Defence Force in 1973, following his graduation from Britain’s famous Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.
HE Dr Al Zayani began by commending the “outstanding efforts the ABCC has made and is still making to enhance economic relations between Arab countries and the UK in general, and of course, as far as I am concerned, with the GCC States”.
He continued, “I have had the privilege of participating in two previous GCC-British Economic Forums organised by the ABCC; in December 2014 and in July 2016. Both events proved hugely successful – they not only gave our businessmen the opportunity to discuss avenues for enhancing joint cooperation in economic, trade and investment areas, but most importantly also proved ideal focal points for networking. It is, after all, human beings who drive things forward – but how much easier this is because of the efforts of the ABCC which provides the platform.”
The GCC Secretary General stated that GCC-British commercial relations have been historically strong, but particularly over the past few years which have witnessed an increased volume of trade accounting for $30 billion in 2015 compared to $9 billion in 2001. But importantly, there has also been an increase in the number of tourists traveling between our nations.”
He emphasised recent efforts to develop the strategic partnership between the GCC and the UK which places even greater emphasis on defence, security, counter-criminal, economic, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian issues.
He concluded by stressing the close ties between ourselves and Britain, “this most friendly of all nations” and remarked “how much we in the GCC highly value the efforts being made by the ABCC in pursuing its aims, all of which run hand in hand with these initiatives”.
The final keynote was delivered by Rt Hon Mr Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for International Development and Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
As a senior member of Her Majesty’s Government, the minister’s special responsibilities cover the Middle East and North Africa. Mr Burt has enjoyed a lengthy and varied career on the frontbench in government and in opposition since entering Parliament in 1985.
The Minister began by citing a comment from 17th century priest and philanthropist Robert South who said, “problems can become opportunities when the right people come together.”
“All countries share an economic problem at the moment”, he said, “the challenge of reforming and adapting our economies to the present day reality, and an uncertain future”. The Minister stressed that, “If the right people come together there are many such opportunities in the Middle East. More than 40% of the population is under 25 and one in 4 young people are unemployed.
Mr Burt continued that “$4trillion of construction projects are underway or in the pipeline across the Middle East and North Africa, and the GCC region is already one of the most urbanised parts of the world”.
Turning to the UK, he stated, “For foreign investors the UK continues to offer transparent, prestigious, and reliable investment opportunities. We continue to offer the best education, culture and professional services that any investor drawn here could want for themselves or their family.
“Our departure from the European Union will enable us to take control of our trade policy and grow trade with countries across the globe. Taken together the scale of the opportunities between us, and the appetite for open trade and investment, are vast.”
Finally, Mr Burt outlined what he called the “UK offer”, remarking that “from education to engineering, architecture to accountancy, technology to transport, British companies have a global reputation for innovation and delivery. They are well placed to partner with Arab countries to address the challenges ahead”.
On behalf of the Chamber, Dr AlShuaiby expressed heartfelt thanks to all the speakers for joining the anniversary celebrations.
The evening concluded with the presentation awards by Dr AlShuaiby given to representatives of organisations that have made a notable achievement in the field of Arab-British trade. During a formal ceremony representatives of the ten winners took to the stage to collect their awards from Dr AlShuaiby.