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Friday February 23, 2007

Study: Energy-rich Arab countries are next emerging market

DUBAI (AP) - The energy-rich economies of some Arab countries have grown so quickly that they deserve to be considered among the group of most rapidly developing nations in the world, according to a prominent economic study released Thursday.

The countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council are developing so fast they could be part of the so-called BRIC countries - made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China - according to the Conference Board, a Brussels-based business research organization that produces the Consumer Confidence Index.

The Gulf Cooperation Council comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

Together they had a combined gross domestic product of over US$553 billion (euro422 billion) in 2005.

By comparison, in that year Brazil's GDP was US$794 billion (euro605.83 billion), India's US$786 billion (euro599.73 billion), Russia's US$764 billion (euro582.94 billion), and China's US$2.2 trillion (euro1.68 trillion).

"In terms of level of income and level of opportunity, they're in a similar category,'' said Andrew Tank, the board's executive director for the Middle East.

The report said BRIC could be renamed BRICA if the six Arab countries are lumped into the group.

BRIC was coined in a 2003 that predicted the four countries could grow so quickly that only America and Japan would be among them as the world's six richest economies in 2050, with China leading the group.

The United States has the world's largest economy with a GDP of US$12 trillion (euro9.16 trillion) in 2005.

Boosted by high oil prices, the energy-exporting GCC nations have seen their annual growth in GDP jump from less than 3 percent before 2002 to around 7 percent in the last two years, the Conference Board said.

The GCC's seven percent economic growth is well above the world average of around 3.5 percent, and further above-average growth is likely, given the world's thirst for petroleum.

As a result, investors should consider Gulf Arab economies in the same light as emerging economic powerhouses of India and China, the report said.

"Oil will fuel the Middle East for many years to come and the GCC is going to be producing a bigger percentage of the world's oil in ten years,'' Tank said.

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