The Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah) recently led a World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA) regional members’ virtual meeting to analyse how investment promotion agencies (IPAs) in the Mena region will be able to successfully create sustainable investment ecosystems for a post-Covid era.
The meeting was held by Invest Sharjah, an affiliate of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), in its capacity as WAIPA regional director for Mena. The meeting also discussed how the agencies have been responding to the changes brought about by the global health crisis, said a Wam news agency report.
Prominent speakers at the meeting, titled ‘Beyond the Covid-19 Crisis – Investment Promotion Agencies and the New Normal’, included Mohamed Juma Al Musharrkh - CEO, Invest in Sharjah and the Regional Director of WAIPA Steering Committee for the Mena region, and member of the Steering Committee; Bostjan Skalar - Executive Director and CEO, WAIPA; Beligh Ben Soltane - President, Tunisia Investment Authority (TIA); Abdelbasset Ghanmi - General Manager, Agence de Promotion de l'Investissement Exterieur (FIPA); Haytham Wahidi - CEO, Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency (PIPA); Amira Murad - Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL); and Ahmed Omic - Research Analyst, WAIPA.
Leading the discussions, Al Musharrkh said Invest In Sharjah welcomed the opportunity to learn from regional investment leaders about the approaches various organisations have been taking to overcome challenges posed by the pandemic, and looked forward collaborate with the 54 IPAs in the Mena region – including 24 from the Middle East – to overcome them.
Sharjah has created its own comprehensive $1.1 billion stimulus programme for all businesses, including SMEs and startups. Invest in Sharjah has been a key advisor to businesses on how to utilise their stimulus allocations from the government, helped businesses renew licences and registrations remotely, facilitated government approvals, and more.
"I am happy to inform you that despite the current situation, we were able to facilitate 11 new investment projects worth $134 million in the first quarter of 2020," he added.
Skalar said: "This has been a tough phase for investors across the world. However, a survey WAIPA conducted together with the World Bank clearly proves that there were negative trends and drops in FDIs even before Covid-19 struck us. There have been different factors affecting the economies and the pandemic was the last straw. Over 50 percent of the IPAs that responded to the survey said budgets may be cut because of the economic situation."
He added: "The main task of WAIPA as an umbrella organisation is to support the IPAs, bring their situation to the attention of the World Bank, the International Chamber of Commerce and all UN agencies, who sit on the WAIPA board. The new initiative we are pursuing now is to establish a busines advisory committee together with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) which will work to bring investors close to IPAs which are best suited to help them in such a situation, and work with governments to create a busines environment conducive to investment. Our global IPA survey shows that intergovernmental institutions have started to trust WAIPA and its wider network. The WAIPA President has led high-level consultations with top institutions on the importance of IPAs on the global level to push investment for sustainable development. It is important that we work together and share our experiences and challenges to arrive at a solution."
Elaborating on the WAIPA-World Bank report State of Investment Promotion Agencies: Evidence from WAIPA – WBG’s Joint Global Survey, which released last month, Ahmed Omic said: "The survey is a combination of several previous WBG and WAIPA surveys, and was conducted from July – December 2019. Of the 162 national IPAs we invited, 91 responded, and we found that while 70 percent of IPAs had clear written multi-year strategies, 24 percent do not.
"The top five priority sectors of IPAs are renewable energy; agriculture, fishing and forestry; pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices; IT services; and food products and beverages. The biggest challenges affecting IPAs are budget (70 percent) and human capacity (64 percent). Responding to the Covid-19 situation, 83 percent of surveyed IPAs worked remotely, 66 percent maintained communication with their investors, and 60 percent succeeded in assisting them resolve their issues," he added.
Relating the Tunisian experience, Beligh Ben Soltane said: "We embraced digital transformation for all our investor services, streamlined and simplified procedures to facilitate the investment journey for local and international investors. It has not been easy. We are more focused on promoting and attracting investment but missing out when it comes to facilitation. We are now focusing more on this aspect."
Haytham Wahidi said while the situation still presented a challenge to the investment atmosphere in Palestine, PIPA had tried to evolve more channels of communication to retain its investors. "However, it has also given us new industries, that are in demand now, to focus on."
Amira Murad thanked Sharjah for its generous help to boost Lebanon’s economy through Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa)’s #UnitedForBeirut initiative. "We have now shifted focus from attracting investors, to retaining them," she said.
"We have developed targeted plans to assist companies to be ready to export and access new markets outside Lebanon, and are working on an online catalogue for exporters, which we will share with our embassies."