DUBAI // Business chiefs were urged yesterday to play their part in the “Expo Effect” that is bringing billions of dollars of investment and economic benefit to the UAE.

“Build a true knowledge economy, give us your thinking, let Expo be your test bed for new technologies, let it be your showcase to the world,” said Reem Al Hashimi, Minister of State and director general of the Expo 2020 Bureau.

“I’m talking about creating jobs, I’m talking about education. It’s about doing something important for the world.”

Ms Al Hashemi was speaking to a “who’s who” of the business community in a gathering at the Expo 2020 site in Jebel Ali. Among more than 200 industry chiefs there were the Jumeirah chief executive Gerald Lawless, the Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour, the du chief executive Osman Sultan and the Dubai World Trade Centre chief executive Helal Almarri.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said Expo-related projects in Dubai and throughout the country by 2020 would boost the economy and create jobs for young people, and he called for an exchange of ideas to this end.

Analysts estimate that the world fair in 2020 will bring US$8 billion in investment to the UAE, nearly Dh30bn, and boost the economy by by about $25bn. The expo organisers’ own forecasts show about Dh70bn in economic benefits by 2021 and the creation of more than 275,000 jobs in the region over the next six years.

The audience of business leaders was given an early glimpse yesterday of what Expo 2020 will look like, with images on a big screen showing drawings and designs.

“The site may not look like much today, but we turn yellow sand into a living breathing vibrant community,” Ms Al Hashimi said.

“What we intend to do with these buildings dwarfs even the massive undertaking of constructing them. Come and create with us.”

Winning the right to host the event, which Dubai did in 2013, has “demonstrated that the UAE is a significant player on the world stage”, she said.

The key challenges facing the region, such as water scarcity and the need for education and more jobs, could be met only through a combined effort, Ms Al Hashimi said.

“Now is the perfect time to bring our business leaders together. We need your support. We need to build and take advantage of the Expo Effect.”

Expo organisers said their aim was to elevate the conversation with the business community towards discussing partnerships, and moving beyond inquiries about procurement and supply contracts for the event.

Business leaders said they believed the expo would benefit the economy and their businesses, but had not yet determined by how much.

Badr Jafar, chief executive of Crescent Enterprises and a columnist with The National, said the event was “a phenomenal opportunity” for the private sector to get behind the Expo.

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London // Etihad Airways’ chief executive says the company bought its stake in Aer Lingus based on a strategy of increasing the number of flights between Dublin and Abu Dhabi.

James Hogan told aviation industry executives at an event in London on Thursday that the original plan was for a “large investment”, but once it became clear that the management of the Irish carrier did not share Etihad’s vision, the company moved on to focus on deals with airberlin and Alitalia.

“The landscape has changed,” he said. “It is a great airline, profitable and functional. The vision could have been for a large investment.”

Mr Hogan was on Thursday reported by media as indicating that the Abu Dhabi airline could sell its stake if the Irish government backs a €1.35 billion (Dh5.41bn) offer made for its flag carrier by the British Airways parent International Airlines Group. Qatar Airways owns a 10 per cent stake in IAG.

Between 2012 and last year, Etihad accumulated more than 4 per cent of the Dublin-based carrier. The two airlines operate code shares on routes between Dublin and Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Muscat and Bahrain.

Aer Lingus last year increased flights to San Francisco from Dublin and to Boston and New York from Shannon as part of its trans-Atlantic expansion plans announced the year before.

Mr Hogan said that the tie-up become less strategically important to Etihad once the Aer Lingus management, led by the previous chief executive Christopher Mueller, had decided to focus on increasing capacity on trans-Atlantic routes.

Etihad operates 10 flights a week from its base in Abu Dhabi to Dublin and has increased capacity by deploying larger aircraft on the route.

Etihad’s growth strategy is focused on expanding its global route network by code-share partnerships and forming equity alliances, in which it invests in carriers in strategically important regions.

Its equity alliance partners include airberlin, Alitalia, Virgin Australia, India’s Jet and Air Seychelles.

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Etihad Airways’ chief executive hit out at the protectionist mood in Europe and the United States on Thursday, warning that the ultimate price of any action taken against Arabian Gulf airlines would be the impact on the future growth of the global aviation industry.

“The dark clouds of protectionism are gathering,” James Hogan said at an event in London. “Five mega-carriers are trying to pull the ladder up after years of having it their own way.”

US and European carriers have urged their respective regulators to address the issue of unfair competition. They claim that Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways receive subsidies from their governments – an allegation that has been strongly denied.

Last week Mr Hogan and Tim Clark, the Emirates president, were in Washington to hit back at the claims made against them by Delta, United and American airlines, and their trade unions in the US.

The US airlines had prepared a 55-page document, which they released in late January, detailing allegations of unfair government subsidy and other financial incentives that they claim were in breach of open skies agreements.

The European Commission also stepped into the spat this month.

During a meeting of transport ministers from the European Union, the French and German representatives asked the commission to address the subject of government subsidies during discussions over a commercial aviation agreement with the Gulf this year.

Lufthansa and other European carriers have called for a halt to approving new routes for Gulf airlines.

On Thursday, Mr Hogan warned that as the debate “heats up around the world” the industry is in danger of losing sight of the fact that competition stimulates growth, both for the sector and for the economies that gain millions of dollars from the increased trade links that follow new aviation routes.

“Some of the carriers attacking us claim they are losing market share. We have started some analysis on this issue and although the detailed study will take some time to complete, I can say that our initial studies already suggest that those claims are true,” said Mr Hogan.

“They are getting a smaller slice, it is true. But it is a slice of a bigger cake. And the bigger cake is proof that more people are able to travel – more consumers are getting the benefits of competitive choice.”

Mr Hogan said that the one thing missing from the row is any thought for the customer.

Airline customers “want” competition.

“People want choice when they travel. Choice means they know things will constantly improve. That’s the same whether you are sitting in Abu Dhabi or in London, Manchester or Edinburgh,” he said.

Mr Hogan said that while the US carriers mentioned the issue of subsidies 42 times in their report, the customer was mentioned “only once”.

“The people that will really lose if these giant legacy airlines are successful are the millions of travellers benefiting from the new choice in the global air travel market.”

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said in February that global passenger demand rose 5.9 per cent last year compared to 2013 – above the 10-year average growth rate of 5.6 per cent – with more than half of the growth in airlines in emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Iata has also projected a rise in the industry’s global profit to US$25 billion this year from $19.9bn last year.

There is a risk of this demand softening as business confidence falls, said Tony Tyler, Iata’s director general and chief executive.

Chinese domestic demand, which fuelled much of the stellar growth last year, may be affected by a slower rate of economic growth this year in the world’s second-largest economy.

However, North America is expected to show a strong performance this year because of higher demand for travel, an improving labour market, consolidation and weak oil prices.

Europe and the US potentially stand to lose out on billions of dollars of aircraft orders that create jobs and drive innovation if their carriers persuade authorities to curb the expansion of Gulf airlines, according to analysts.

“The stark reality is that the US and the EU cannot realistically elect to stifle the growth of Gulf airlines,” says Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research. “US and EU airlines operate outdated and debt-heavy airlines and are reluctant to wake up and change.”

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