Middle East countries must see beyond oil and gas, says Clinton

By Pratap John
DOHA: The former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, has said the Middle East countries need to diversify their economies and enhance productivity if they are to make optimum use of their resources and potential.
Many people in the West and elsewhere in the world believe the Middle East is the hotbed of politics and seat of instability, which is not correct, he said yesterday in his address to the opening session of the two-day conference on ‘Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future’.
Clinton said the respective governments in the region must create business opportunities beyond oil and gas and their enterprises. Policies must be framed carefully to facilitate this.

The regulations must also be streamlined so that the businesses stay healthy.
By businesses, Clinton said, he did not mean large corporates alone. Small businesses have an equal role to play in driving the national economies.
For instance, he said, in the U,S the small businesses invariably created more jobs than the large corporates.

“During every year of my presidency the small businesses created more jobs than the larger ones. In fact, some of the large business conglomerates in the US including Intel and FedEx had humble beginnings.

“They started very small,” he told the conference at the Ritz-Carlton.
Clinton said in a vibrant economy there would be a large middle class with a lot of consuming potential. The countries in the region must create opportunities for entrepreneurship and new jobs.

More women also must be in the workforce. Their contribution to individual economies cannot be undermined, he said.
Clinton also called for fixing minimum wages and providing benefits to the unemployed including insurance cover.
The former US president stressed the need for training people in business management. It is very important. Business education and exposure to IT were essential for proper entrepreneurship.
All said and done, he said, political instability could doom businesses. A case in point is Palestine.
“During my presidency some 600 American businessmen including those of Arab and Jewish descent had agreed to invest in Palestine soon after the 1993 accord between Israel and Palestine on the lawns of the White House. But subsequently none of them came forward apparently due to fears about protection for their investments,” he said.
Clinton said more investments and partnerships were required in many Middle East countries if their economies had to move ahead. In order to create room for such investments and partnerships, political stability was paramount.
He said dialogue was essential to remove misgivings, if any, between the Middle Eastern countries and the region and the rest of the world.
“Two years ago, I had the privilege to attend a conference here in which many leaders including Pervez Musharraf spoke. The dialogue was healthy. We were expected to talk and not fight, think and not shout and build and not to tear down. Precisely, we did that,” Clinton said.
Making a special mention of Qatar’s leadership position in liquefied natural gas processing and marketing, he said the State must also see whether it would be feasible to generate energy from other non-polluting sources such as wind and hydel power.
In the context of rising global awareness on environmental pollution, this makes sense, Clinton added.