Helping Yemeni Business Strengthen Links with the World [Archives:1998/08/Viewpoint]

February 23 1998

There were many businessmen on the trip just concluded by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Irrespective of the stronger official economic links and political understanding, the main achievement of the trip must definitely be the private business deals. In all three countries, Yemeni businessmen found eager exporters, importers, and partners for investment projects.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, locals of Hadhrami extract, spearheaded the effort of forge new economic links. The several million locals of Yemeni origin are mostly into business and would like to help their new and old homes, if they can make some profit at the same time. “I urge you to work closely with the leading businessmen who have come with me on this trip. I am sure they will give you an accurate view of the realistic possibilities in Yemen today. In all cases, I pledge to support you in any way I can. Yemen offers lots of opportunities,” President Saleh told them.
Indeed, many contracts were signed and agency representation was concluded. One Malaysian businessman told the Yemen Times, “I feel we can help both Malaysia/Indonesia and Yemen, at the same time. These new links offer a win-win picture in which all sides have something to gain.” Although most of the contracts were couched in commerce, some joint ventures were also concluded.
In China, some heavy-industry joint investment projects were undertaken. These include a steel mill, two cement plants, a carton factory, and several manufacturing/processing industries. There are some more ideas and projects in the pipeline.
In total, the value of the investments jointly undertaken by Yemeni businessmen with their new partners approach the US$1 billion mark. Not bad for one visit. “You have not yet heard the full story. The visit also launched several ideas which are being developed. In the final analysis, the total benefit from the visit is much higher,” said Mr. Ahmed Soufan, Minister of Industry.
The rising emphasis of the presidential visits, notably Germany, France, the United Kingdom – late last year, and last week’s visit to Southeast Asia and China, has been on private business. The President sees his role as creating the basic climate for Yemenis to do business with the rest of the world.
That is a correct and fruitful approach and objective. It fits well within the reform programs being implemented by the government.
The President has plans to make visits to other countries which are important for Yemen’s economic growth and development. These included Japan and India during 1998, and Canada and the USA for 1999.
One of the things that the Yemeni government and business sectors need to work on, is better coordination and cooperation during the presidential trip. The businessmen should not simply join as part of the entourage, they should be given a real say in the planning and execution of the visit program. This will require a change in approach and mentality on both sides. On the one hand, the officials should realize they are there to serve the businessmen, and the businessmen should develop more confidence in the officials. Both those two conditions will require some doing. But, if the two sides realize that their objectives are one and the same, then it should be possible to bridge the gap.
Maybe an awareness of this need is the first step towards a better coordination and cooperation in the future. Let us all work on it.

Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher